Development crores in district dust-bin

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  • Published 13.12.06

Krishnagar, Dec. 13: About Rs 500 crore meant for rural development is gathering dust in various districts with Bengal’s laggard trio again topping the list of shame.

The panchayat and rural development department stumbled on the unused funds during a recent internal audit.

The money is with either the zilla parishads or the district administrations, said Bankim Ghosh, the minister of state for panchayat and rural development.

More than a fifth of the amount is lying waste in backward West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura.

According to officials in the panchayat and rural deve-lopment department, the funds had come from the Centre and the state government and accumulated over the past 20 years.

It was supposed to have been spent on poverty alleviation and drinking water projects, village roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Ghosh said: “We have asked the district administrations and the zilla sabhadhipatis to return the money as soon as possible so that plans for fresh projects can be drawn up quickly. We have found unspent funds in every district.”

In vast stretches of Bengal, people still live on one meal a day.

Reports of starvation deaths, too, keep appearing every now and then, though the administration splits hairs over whether they are starvation deaths or the result of diseases caused by lack of food.

In West Midnapore’s Amlashol, five people died of hunger in 2004. In August this year, Anchala Pramanick of the same district, a tribal woman in her 40s, died after living on water for seven days.

Inquiring into the incident, a group of four working for the Supreme Court slammed the local administration for trivialising her suffering and glossing over a starvation death.

Commissioners appointed to monitor implementation of the apex court’s order on the right to food toured villages in Belpahari in September and said in their report: “Whether it (Anchala’s) was medically a starvation death or not has become a subject of debate which is in very bad taste.”

Three north Bengal districts — Darjeeling, Cooch Behar and North Dinajpur — where poverty is alarming also feature among the list’s top 10.

Ghosh put it down to a “major failure” on the part of the district administrations and the parishads. He also suggested that with strict monitoring and terms and conditions now, it is not as easy to let development funds go waste. “Almost all the central funds were sanctioned 15 to 20 years ago. If the rules on timely spending were strict then, they would have been returned and subsequent allocations curtailed.”

For projects such as the Swarnajayanti Rozgar Yojna, state governments have to send utilisation certificates to the Centre every six months.

“With the advent of e-governance, it is very easy to monitor and locate unutilised funds,” said a district magistrate.

It is less likely now that the money would get buried under a heap of files, but whether it is making it to the really needy is a million-dollar question.