Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
Howsoever smart be a lier, truth occasionally comes out through unattended crevices in the iron wall of secrecy.
Such a truth has come out in Orissa Assembly on February 23 that exposes how ugly is Orissa administration despite claim of honesty.
And, it has come out in the answer of mass education Minister Pratap Jena to a question on the ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ (SSA), that the Central Government principally funds to achieve the goal of Universalization of Elementary Education of Satisfactory quality within a stipulated time.
The lackluster approach to SSA coupled with corruption by Orissa officials has earlier been discussed in these pages.
But what the minister has told the House exposes to what suicidal extent the officials have corrupted it.
He has told the House that majority of District Collectors have drawn several lakhs of Rupees each towards expenses on their tour vehicles without even paying a single visit to any SSA center. They are all pampered officers of the government.
Since commencement of the scheme, Collectors have been assigned with powers to supervise, superintend, coordinate and control implementation of SSA programs in their respective districts. Taking advantage of this, Collectors have menacingly misused its fund,
The Minister’s reply reveals that out of 30 districts of the State, except only one district, i.e. Debgarh, all the other 29 Collectors have drawn massive amount of funds for their luxurious tour to SSA sites whereas 20 of them have drawn huge money on account of vehicles for their inspection of SSA units without any visit to any of them.
According to the Minister, a total of Rs.22.64 lakhs has been drawn towards rent and fuel of tour vehicle of the Collector of Koraput district, whereas the money drawn on this head by the Collector of Nayagarh is Rs.15.30 lakhs, by the Collector of Bargarh is Rs. 15.24 lakhs, by the Collector of Angul is Rs. 8.94 lakhs, by the Collector of Cuttack is Rs.12.72 lakhs, by the Collector of Dhenkanal is Rs. 11.83 lakhs, by the Collector of Ganjam is Rs. 8.17 lakhs, by the Collector of Jagatsinghpur is Rs. 11.75 lakhs, by the Collector of Jajpur is Rs.2.19 lakhs, by the Collector of Kalahandi is Rs.1.95 lakhs, by the Collector of Keonjhar is Rs.3.30 lakhs, by the Collector of Khurda is Rs. 10.28 lakhs, by the Collector of Malkangiri is Rs.13.89 lakhs, by the Collector of Mayurbhanj is Rs. 11.70 lakhs, by the Collector of Puri is Rs.9.92 lakhs, by the Collector of Rayagaga is Rs.11.04 lakhs, by the Collector of Sonepur is Rs. 7.23 lakhs and by the Collector of Sundergarh is Rs.5.94 lakhs, even though none of these Collectors have ever visited any SSA unit in their respective districts.
It is shocking that in districts like Koraput, Kalahandi, Malkangiri, Sundergarh, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Nayagarh and the Chief Minister’s home district Ganjam, where education is so marginal and poverty, linked to lack of education, is so very rampant that SSA could have emerged as a boon, the Collectors have looted the scheme by false bills on luxurious cars claimed to have been used by them for inspection of implementation of the scheme even though they have never gone to a single spot.
The other 9 district Collectors, except perhaps Bhadrak, are not also above board. The SSA projects they have visited do not justify the fabulous amount of money they have drawn on vehicle heads.
When Bhadrak Collector has inspected 1330 projects against expenditure of Rs.5.59 lakhs on vehicles, the Nawarangpur Collector has drawn Rs. 11.13 lakhs towards vehicle for visiting mere 158 projects. The scenario in other very backward districts is not different. As for instance, the Collector of Kandhamal has inspected only 125 SSA centers, but drawn Rs. 8.82 lakhs for vehicles. Collector of Nuapada has visited only 75 centers as against spending of Rs.5.90 lakhs on vehicle, whereas Kendrapada Collector has spent Rs.13.95 lakhs for tour to 108 centers and the Sambalpur Collector has drawn Rs.14.57 lakhs against visit to only 59 projects under the scheme. When Balasore Collector has visited 912 projects and drawn Rs.11.52 lakhs towards rent and fuel of his tour vehicle, Collector of Balangir has drawn 6.51 lakhs on vehicle head to tour 458 centers, but the Collector of Jharsuguda has visited only 27 centers spending 2.41 lakhs from the funds of the scheme on rented vehicles.
Sad, the Assembly has not paid due attention to this serious assault on the centrally funded scheme by the very officers under whose care and control the projects are left.
As we gather from sources under pledge of secrecy, Collectors have misappropriated this fund in nexus with leaders of the ruling party and personnels in charge of accounts in their respective offices. In some cases, Collectors have purchased sophisticated AC cars in names of relations and taken the same on higher rent for the purpose of their tours under the scheme, but have drawn the money against false bills without subjecting the vehicles to rigors of the roads.
This is a fit case for separate specific discussion in the Assembly. But with majority of members in the Chief Minister’s pocket, this may not be possible; because, if a specific debate is allowed, it is the Chief Minister, who would be most embarrassed.
Under the scheme, when the Prime Minister heads the SSA Mission in Central level, the CM heads it in the State level. It is clear, therefore, that the Orissa CM has not done his duty to the mission or has deliberately kept his eyes closed to what his blue-eyed boys in the districts have been doing, as nobody who is not in his good book is placed in charge of a district as Collector.