Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Orissa Legislative Assembly granted Rs.641, 43, 51000.00 worth demand of Rural Development (RD) Department on March 16 notwithstanding stiff strictures from members of both the sides on maladministration and misuses of funds that result in blocking of benefits to the vast majority of population in the State. In the process, the recommendations of the departmental Standing Committee also got sloughed over.

Initiating the debate, former Minister Netrananda Mallik of Congress came down heavily on expenditure of the RD fund on political consideration rather than real assessment of rural need. The massive allocation of projects to the Constituency area of Revenue Minister Manmohan Samal, who belongs to the RD Minister’s own party and proximity, speaks volumes of the parochialism and party bias that now shroud over the department. He pointed out that the engineers of the department, taking advantage of the party-pivoted motive of the Minister, are in clandestine ally with unscrupulous contractors and their thus consolidated syndicate is looting the state exchequer sans any obstruction. The MLAs, were they more involved, might have been obstructing the rampant looting; but, he regretted, the Minister has not encouraged such a climate to develop. Urbanized orientation in plan implementation has led administration to such inclinations that the belts dominated by the SC and ST communities do suffer continuous and constant negligence.

Veteran of treasury benches, Bishnu Das refused to show any sympathy to the Minister. He questioned the way developmental projects are being distributed. To him, most of the works being executed in the name of infrastructure development are devoid of prudence and are propelled by behind the curtain consideration rather than principled decisions. The Minister should exhibit efficiency in controlling his officers so that the purpose of placing funds for rural development is not lost, he emphasized.

Another veteran of the treasury side, Kalpataru Das was equally sharp in his observation. Contractors are being chosen on considerations that are vitiated by corruption, he said. No body knows who decides which work is to be taken up where and how much money is to be addressed to which work. Such a confused condition must not be allowed to linger. And, for this a Master Plan for rural development should be prepared without any delay, he stressed.

If the aforesaid two treasury bench members belonged to BJD, members of the other partner BJP did not lag behind. For Brundavan Majhi, MLAs are hoodwinked by the executive under the pretext of paucity of funds whereas projects are being executed in blatant disregard to balance development if that suit the engineer-contractor nexus. Ladu Kishore Swain of BJD wanted the Minister to through light on the mystery of 20% PC in the scheme of expenditure.

Minister Biswa Bhusan Harichandan did not throw any light on that mystery. But, he assured that members will be given allocation of funds from Rs.2.5 Crores to Rs.4 Crores each for works in their respective constituencies from the funds flowing from the 12th Finance Commission. Supporting executive version that the rural connectivity programmes are running in perfect manner, he assured that in 2006-07 the target of construction of 390 KM rural roads with 25 bridges over them would be achieved. Within the next four years, 22,627 villages and 4955 habitats would be provided with all weather roads, he said.

Admitting that drinking water in most of the villages has become scarce, and in specific pockets fluoride density in ground water has been playing havoc with public health, the Minister assured that remedial steps would be taken soon. By the end of May as many as 6000 villages including annexed habitats would be having drinking water facilities and, if necessary, water would be supplied through tankers, he said.

The House allowed the demands sans any impact of the recommendations of the departmental Standing Committee. Neither any member nor the Minister was seen keen in the Committee observation. The Committee had reported, “Even though the official figures provided by the department show that 12,535.216 km are B.T. road, in reality, those roads are in damned bad condition. Though technically they are B.T. roads, practically they are damaged roads. More that 50% of these roads are not motorable”.

The Department had submitted before the Standing Committee that it was extremely difficult to maintain the rural roads with the meager allocation of funds inasmuch as “it was impossible to cover ordinary repair of entire road in course of the years”. Relying upon the I.R.C. norm and guideline for repair of the roads and o the importance of maintenance, the Committee had underlined the necessity of higher allocation of funds on this score.

Putting priority on bringing RD roads to “maintainable standard”, the Committee had underlined that “The rural population should not be treated as ‘B’ class citizens while allocating funds to different Departments, received from the Central Government”. On this premise the Committee had put on records that it “recommends that the Department should take steps for providing a sum of Rs.1160 cr at a time for bringing the RD roads maintainable standard and thereafter make annual provision of Rs.852.00cr. for their maintenance, provided the road length under the Department
remains as it is today”. But after receiving this recommendation from the Standing Committee, the Department did not take any step to reflect it in the budget.

The Standing Committee, on scrutinizing the budget proposals, was shocked to find that no fund has been provided during the year 2006-07 for construction and / or maintenance of roads and bridges in the K.B.K.Areas, though earlier funds were provided for this. “In view of the fact that K.B.K. districts are the most backward areas, not only in the State, but also in the whole of the country, sufficient funds should be provided for development of communication by constructing roads and bridges in that area”, the Committee opined.

Noting that “The Western Orissa Development Council (WODC)also provides funds for development of roads and bridges, a part of which is provided at the disposal of RD department”, the Committee said, “Unfortunately, in the budget of 2006-07 details of the projects proposed to be taken up do not find place. The committee is of the view that the details of the roads and bridges proposed to be taken up during the year 2006-07 by WODC should be placed before the Orissa legislative Assembly indicating therein the funds placed at the disposal of RD Department”.

But this recommendation of the Committee, which has no fund placement necessity, was also soughed over.

On persistent pressure from Deputy Leader of Opposition, Mr. Narasingh Mishra, the Minister of course assured that the recommendation of the Committee would be given due honor. But, as far as the demand in question is concerned, it was the Minister’s barren assurance.

The Minister has clearly made a farce of the Departmental Standing Committee.

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