K K Jandial
One thing where Indian bureaucracy never fails to impress is in the coinage of camouflaging terms. Few such terms coined by the J&K bureaucrats are Languishing Projects and Integrated Finance Divisions.
What are Languishing projects?
A number of projects which could not be completed due to many reasons and one dominant reason among others being that many works were started without following codal formalities and under political pressure. Although these works amounting to approximately 6600 crores were the creation of previous political dispensation, the Governors administration has fast tracked their implementation. In its zealous approach to complete these projects in shortest possible time, the administration has over looked a vital part as to why these projects remain languishing in the first instance and what was the institutional mechanism to withstand the political pressure or official adventure.
The creation of this humongous liability was deliberate by passing of institutional mechanism because the funds for capital expenditure were released and are still being released through the Economic and Statistics service popularly called as planning cadre. This cadre is a specialized service which has a number of highly technical functions to perform but not the release of capex budget. But the cadre in practicality, as is well known to all, devoted 90% of its time in release of funds only and thereby overlooking all its intended functions. That is why even the amount of languishing projects is debatable as no record of such category has been maintained by this cadre. This largely operated as an ecosystem of political official nexus and funds of Capex part were released at the whims and fancies of political class. By channeling funds through this route a junior official of this cadre used to exercise the power of even legislature as re-appropriation of funds from one project to another was being done at their level only.
The institutional mechanism for handling of funds
The public money has to pass through a labyrinth of rules and regulations like the Budget Manual, Financial Code, Book of Financial powers, CSR, GPF rules, Leave rules, PWD Code, Forest Code etc being some of them. These specialized functions are institutionalized with maintenance of record in such a way that the chances of catching the financial irregularities are increased and the attempts to steal the public money are minimized. The AG office counter checks all the record of expenditure and compares it annually with the approved budget. The J&K Accounts (Gazetted) service and its subordinate service popularly called accounts cadre is trained in performing such functions. The officers of accounts service are recruited through the prestigious state civil services exam (popularly called KAS Exam) and after that they have to pass two very difficult exams of SAC-I & SAC-II conducted by the PSC having the syllabus of these different rules and regulations. The non-plan or revenue part of expenditure is handled by this cadre and comparing with Capex expenditure there are negligible financial irregularities and audit paras with a clear maintenance of financial record of all such expenditure.
What was required to be done to correct this?
The first step for any financial irregularity is to fix the accountability of such creation followed by finding the defects in institutional mechanism and finally the course corrections to be done accordingly. In the J&K state the planning cadre acted as liasoning cadre for receiving funds from the Planning Commission of India and simultaneously grew and became powerful. As the Planning Commission was replaced by NITI AYOG, the consequent fall out should have been the same in J&K also. The only solution was to take the release of capex funds from this cadre so that they could focus entirely on their intended specialized functions of data collection, its analysis, near term and future planning, real time monitoring and evaluations of projects etc thereby leaving the release of Capex fund to the Accounts cadre.
What was done by the Govt.
The J&K state in Sept, 2018 initially tried to take away the release of capital expenditure from the planning department and gave to Finance department though without creation of any commission on lines of NITI AYOG but the devil lies in details. In practicality what the Govt did was to shift the officers of same planning cadre to a newly created division under Finance department without addressing the core issue as to whether this cadre is trained to perform the specialized functions of handling of funds or not. The arrangement of funds release however remained the same at administrative deptt., HoD and District level. As the necessary course correction was a natural fall out expected in future, a hectic lobbying was done by the planning cadre and the initial policy decision of Govt to take away Capex expenditure from planning department was changed to the creation of Integrated Finance divisions in July,2019, which effectively means awarding the planning cadre by not only keeping capex expenditure with them but even placing services of accounts cadre under them. The Govt even submitted two contradictory affidavits on this issue in the J&K High Court. The passing of KAS exam followed by SAC-I and SAC-II by the accounts cadre was totally ignored and data collectors would be heading the accounts cadre in this arrangement. This arrangement effectively will make the planning cadre become KAS through back door in the eyes of society. In order to remove the quacks playing with the health of the people, the Govt. made them wear aprons, gave them stethoscope and appointed as doctors. Now a doctor is subordinate to a quack in this latest solution of the Govt.
Many questions to be answered by the J&K administration before implementation of this decision particularly after creation of UT.
* Is the same decision going to be implemented in the UT of J&K as there is no planning cadre handling capex expenditure in any UT or centre?
* What is the need of creating integrated Finance divisions? Are not the administrative secretaries, HoDs or DCs already heading both Accounts and planning sections now?
* What is the obsession of Planning cadre to keep capex expenditure with them? And why is administration trying to be seen complicit in keeping this arrangement as such?
* As the administration seems to highly concerned about the survival of planning cadre without capex expenditure, why creation of some policy commission on lines of NITI Ayog was not given any thought?
* If there is some dire need to create the Integrated divisions, why the reasons for such creation are not under circulation in the public domain?
The prophetic words of Oliver Goldsmith aptly sums the recent changes and modus operandi, “….the wise sometimes condescend to accept of titles; but none but a fool would imagine them of any real importance. We ought to depend upon intrinsic merit, and not on the slender helps of a title”
(The writer is practising Advocate
of J&K High Court)