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Planning Commission fast-tracks scheme to monitor social projects

Vandana Gombar  |  New Delhi 

Govt plans to capture scheme-wise and state-wise actual Plan expenditure.

Here is a one announcement that is likely to be a part of the finance minister’s Budget speech next year — a scheme-wise and state-wise break-up of actual central plan expenditure.

In the current scheme of things, mere disbursement is clocked as expenditure, and there is no way of slicing the data available scheme-wise and state-wise.

“Theoretically, you can get some break-up scheme-wise and state-wise, by manually collecting the data from each ministry, but the numbers may not reconcile,” said a senior official from the Planning Commission.

Compiling intelligible data was the purpose of the Central Plan Schemes Monitoring System (CPSMS), announced in last year’s Budget by the then finance minister P Chidambaram, to “monitor scheme-wise and state-wise releases for about 1,000 central plan and centrally-sponsored schemes in 2008-09”.

The scheme was to be implemented by the Planning Commission through the office of the Controller General of Accounts (CGA).

In a review meeting of the scheme held at the Planning Commission earlier this month by Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, it was decided to fast-track work on the scheme so that its successful completion can be part of the Budget speech next year.

Monitoring direct transfers
The scheme will also monitor direct fund transfers to state level implementing agencies for the government’s flagship social programmes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.

These direct transfers, which bypass state treasuries, have more than doubled over the last few years (see table).

“Release of funds from the central government to the implementing agency is booked as actual expenditure even though the funds may be misused for other purposes, or may just be lying unused with the agency,” said a senior planning commission official.

Here is a sampler from a recent audit report of the society –- Tamil Nadu State Mission on Education for All -– which is the implementation agency of SSA and other programmes in the state:

“In the the absence of scheme-wise proper records, it is not correctly known whether any grant or portion thereof given by government of India or state government to SSA for a specific purpose has been apportioned only for the purpose for which it was originally approved.”

The government also has no database of the agencies which are receiving these funds.

“There are about 5,000 agencies which have now been registered in the last few months as individual recipients of funds. However, we don’t know what fraction of the universe this represents,” added the official.

A senior CGA official said that 200-300 agencies are registering every day since April 1, 2009, when such registration was made mandatory for receipt of funds.

Currently, even the CGA has no estimate of the total number of agencies taking money from the government through different ministries.

Next step-accountability
As the process of registration (which includes verification of the agencies also) gains traction, the next step is to make sure that these agencies are responsible and accountable in the use of the funds transferred.

For instance, the Tamil Nadu audit report, signed off in February 2009, also cites instances of use of cash where cheque payments should have been made, lack of proper competitive quotations for purchase of materials, missing utilisation certificates, and so on.

“The most difficult part of the plan is to get the village level expenditure into the system,” said the CGA official.

Many of the country’s 600,000-odd villages are not connected to the internet. Giving them hand-held devices, or using mobile phones are some of the options being considered to bring them online.

There are, however, many roadblocks in putting in place the monitoring scheme.

These range from lack of adequate staff –- there are no posts sanctioned for the elaborate project, according to a CGA official –- to non-cooperation from some ministries, like rural development.

“There are problems…and they are being overcome,” added the official.

Officials say that the ultimate target of the monitoring is to move to a system where the specific names of the beneficiaries of these schemes would be available at the click of a button. An often cited model is that of Brazil, where the names of the beneficiaries of its conditional cash transfer scheme are available online.

First Published: Sat, July 18 2009. 01:22 IST