THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The move to finalise grama panchayat plans by June 15, 2017, seems to have worked. By the evening of Saturday, the last day of the 2017-18 fiscal, the plan fund utilisation of grama panchayats has touched a record 90 per cent. Now that panchayat plans for the next fiscal (2018-19) have secured the approval of the district planning committees (DPC) even before the end of 2017-18, an unprecedented occurrence, it is estimated that the plan fund utilisation of local bodies in 2018-19 would cross 100 per cent.
The higher utilisation in panchayats is not the result of a book-keeping exercise either, like in previous fiscals. Until this fiscal, it was usual for panchayats to claim money allocated to them from the consolidated Fund and park it in their Treasury savings Bank account or other bank accounts. Though the money was kept elsewhere and not spent, it was still considered expenditure. “This meant that utilisation looked healthy on the ledger, not in reality. But from this fiscal (2017-18), we have prohibited local bodies and government departments from making such book adjustments,” a top Finance Department official said. Such a stricture was necessitated by the Centre’s strict monitoring of the state’s Treasury accounts.
What’s more, middlemen in the form of department heads had been done away with, and the money was transferred directly to beneficiaries; contractors in the case of public works, vendors in the case of government purchases. “This we hope will improve the quality of expenditure,” the official said. This fiscal, the state has also facilitated additional authorisation for panchayats that had achieved 100 per cent utilisation. There are many such high-spending panchayats; Ambalappuzha block panchayat is an example. “Additional authorisation for money over and above the budgeted amount is required for high-spending panchayats to complete spillover projects from previous fiscals,” the official said.
Nonetheless, the utilisation of corporations and district panchayats, as usual, remained below 75 per cent. The utilisation in municipalities was healthier at over 80 per cent. The overall utilisation is expected to touch 85 per cent. Departments like forests, ports and water resources have recorded 50 per cent or lower utilisation. Finance minister T.M. Thomas Isaac said that this was because the projects of these departments depended heavily on Central funds. “The Centre had been extremely stingy about disbursing funds to the states,” the minister said.