The Supreme Court on Wednesday favoured an audit of government funds meant for providing shelters to the urban homeless, saying the money was not being spent by the states and the homeless people remained the sufferers.
The apex court, while suggesting an audit of the money disbursed by the Centre to the states for a scheme under the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM), said it could "possibly" be done by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and observed that these funds, which are meant for a specific purpose, should not be diverted.
It said such an audit was necessary as the apex-court appointed committee, set up to verify the availability of such shelters and headed by former Delhi High Court judge Justice Kailash Gambhir, would not look into this aspect.
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Centre, told a bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta that the unspent amount by states for the previous period stood at Rs 412 crore, while Rs 228 crore was released by the Centre for 2017-18.
"One thing is that you (Centre) give money and the states does not spend it. For 2017-2018, you have given Rs 228 crore. You tell the states that we are giving you money and you are not spending it. So why should we give you more money," the bench said.
"The money is not spent by the states and the sufferers are the homeless people. How can you ensure that the money is spent? It should not be diverted as the money has been given for a specific purpose," the court said.
During the hearing, Kumar told the bench that the Centre was contributing 60 per cent of the funds for the scheme, while the remaining amount was borne by the states. For Jammu and Kashmir and north eastern states, the ratio was 90 by the Centre and 10 per cent by the states.
"Audit is necessary. The committee is not going to audit the account," the bench said, adding, "it can possibly be done by the CAG."
The bench also asked the solicitor general that 790 cities were covered under the scheme and monitoring of all these cities would tentatively not be possible.
"We could do two things. One way of doing it is to ask the high courts to look after their states. The second option is that instead of asking the high courts, we can look into it," the bench asked Kumar.
Responding to this, the solicitor general said keeping in view the magnitude of implementation of scheme in 790 cities, the option of asking the high courts appeared to be better as they could also have the assistance of the state and the district legal services authority.
He said he would assist the apex court on the issues asked by the bench, including that of auditing of money.
The court fixed the matter for hearing on October 13.
The apex court had last year slammed the Centre and state governments for the lackadaisical approach in providing shelters to the poverty-stricken in urban areas despite the availability of sufficient funds.
It had also observed that the mission of the NULM scheme "remains a distant dream even after lapse of a long period."
The NULM was launched in September 2013 to reduce poverty and vulnerability of urban poor households.
The Centre had earlier told the court that an amount of Rs 1,000 crore, released under the NULM, does not pertain only to urban homeless but to other activities also.