Odisha panchayats under scanner for unutilised funds

Half-baked implementation of MGNREGS projects in Odisha’s Kendrapara district is being ascribed to official negligence.

Noma Nazish/OneWorld South Asia

Bhubaneswar: The district administration of Odisha’s Kendrapara district has issued a notice to 21 gram panchayats enquiring into unused funds meant to employ rural people as part of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

Not even a single paisa allotted under MGNREGS has been put to use by the 21 gram panchayats, prompting the administration to issue a show cause notice to the sarpanches and panchayat executive officers.

They have 15 days to explain their less than proactive role.

MGNREGS, a flagship poverty alleviation scheme implemented with funds from the Centre, guarantees 100 days of employment to a member of each rural family. It is touted as the largest social intervention of its kind, raising purchasing power of some of India`s most impoverished households.

But the scheme has also attracted its share of critics, many of whom argue that it has been no more effective than other poverty reduction programs in India. The program is beset with controversies about corrupt officials, deficit financing, poor implementation, and unintended destructive effect on poverty.

Applying modern technologies like those employing ICTs to make the technology effective have often been stonewalled. Efforts to replicate a state-of-the-art ICT intervention launched with support from the UNDP in the Bhilwara district in the western desert state of Rajasthan, for instance, have been tied up in red tape and official bottlenecks.

The Bhilwara project, implemented by the New Delhi-based OneWorld Foundation, was meant to make MGNREGS implementation hassle-free for its end-users and remove any scope for corruption.

It is the sort of hassle officials in Kendrapara fear. "The administration has resolved to expedite the completion of pending projects. Those found negligent in executing the work would be taken to task. The errant officials and sarpanches are being penalised," Niranjan Nayak, district collector or head of Kendrapara’s administration, has been reported as saying.

The implementation of the flagship project has left much to be desired in the entire district with 230 gram panchayats where only 50 per cent of funds allocated for 2012-2013 financial year could be spent.

An estimated Rs 881 million remains unspent. The money was meant to be spent during the year in Kendrapara district but utilisation certificates of 60 per cent of the projects are yet to be submitted, news agencies quoted an official as saying.