The Centre on Thursday released the “withheld” funds of Rs 83 crore to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) following the restoration of elected rural bodies in the Darjeeling hills after a gap of 18 years.
The GTA, which had been deprived of rural development funds in the absence of elected panchayats, is expected to receive around Rs 120 crore more from the Centre for the local bodies.
Sources said the Union ministry of panchayati raj on Thursday recommended to the ministry of finance the release of the “withheld portion of untied” rural funds (Rs 83 crore) under the 15th Finance Commission to the GTA.
Rural bodies receive tied and untied funds. The tied funds are for specific projects while the rural bodies have leeway in choosing their schemes which can be executed with untied funds, explained an official.
On September 1, the Bengal government had written to the Centre that boards had been formed in 112 gram panchayats and nine panchayat samitis in the GTA area following the elections.
The hills have only gram panchayats and panchayat samitis unlike the rest of Bengal where zilla parishads are also in place.
“Bengal had requested the Centre to consider the GTA as a zilla parishad till the three-tier panchayat system is put in place and treat the hill body on a par with autonomous development councils under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution,” said a source.
A constitutional amendment is needed to put in place the three-tier panchayat system in the GTA area.
“However, funds are now expected to flow to the GTA though elections are held only to the gram panchayats and the panchayat samitis. The GTA was losing rural funds because of the delay in holding the rural elections,” said a source.
This is because the Union panchayat ministry had framed guidelines in 2015, linking the release of 14th Finance Commission grants to panchayat bodies formed on the basis of elections.
In 2019, the Centre had informed the Bengal government that states were being provided with funds for only elected rural bodies on a pro-rata basis after deducting the proportionate amount for panchayats without people’s representatives.