If you thought the reason for all the infrastructure woes plaguing Karnataka and especially Bengaluru was paucity of money, you are wrong. It has now been disclosed that a stash of fund that could have been used for numerous development works across the state has remained unutilised for the past 15 years.
On Thursday, Minister for Planning, MR Seetharam, announced that Rs 1,009 crore of the Karnataka Legislators Local Area Development Scheme's (KLLADS) fund has remained unused since 2002.
Speaking to TNM, the Minister said that between 2002 and 2013, the KLLADS fund, popularly known as MLA/MLC fund amounting to Rs 406 crore had remained unused.
The Minister said that the Planning, Programme Monitoring and Statistics Department of the Karnataka government has now started a new scheme to finally put this fund to use.
The new scheme
Sidda Sarkarada Nade Sevegala Kade is the new scheme where the huge stash of money will be used for providing “basic infrastructure” in classrooms, government hospitals and also for building anganwadis.
Every assembly constituency is currently being allotted Rs 2 crore per annum in the state budget.
“These funds are allotted to the Karnataka MLAs. Funds from 2002 to 2013 which had been deposited in the accounts of the respective district administrators (deputy commissioners) have not been used at all. We have directed all Deputy Commissioners to utilise the funds for development works by the end of this financial year,” Minister Seetharam said.
The Minister maintained that the Planning, Programme Monitoring and Statistics Department will monitor the use of funds.
“It is the first time that we have discovered such a big amount of Local Area Development (LAD) funds being unused. Now, the legislators do not have control over these funds as the time period for utilisation of these funds has lapsed. The Deputy Commissioners have been directed to follow the plan chalked out by our department," Minister Seetharam added.
Of the Rs 406 crore, RS 243 crore has been given to the Education Department for construction or repair of 2,719 classrooms in government-run schools. The Heath Department has been allotted Rs 122 crore to provide basic infrastructure at 309 government hospitals in the state and Rs 40 crore has been set aside for construction of 346 anganwadis. The Women & Child Development department will be given the anganwadi fund.
The minister said that the deputy commissioners have been asked to finish the said works with 90 days of the date of the tender. The minister has also instructed the district administration to provide progress reports of the works, once every fortnight.
According to the minister, the highest unspent amount was in Uttara Kannada district, amounting to Rs 35 crore. Gadag had the lowest with Rs 3 crore of unused funds. Not a single MLA or MLC had used all the funds allotted to his/her constituency.
The Karnataka Legislators Local Area Development Scheme
The Local Area Development Fund, popularly known as MLA/MLC Funds, was introduced in Karnataka in the 2001-02 fiscal.
The state government, at the time, introduced it with the aim of infrastructure development in every assembly constituency.
Every legislator is assigned a certain amount in the state’s budget and the said MLA/MLC has to propose development works he/she wants to undertake in the area within their jurisdiction.
The legislators have to submit the plans to the district administration. The Deputy Commissioner then refers these proposals to the respective implementing agencies, which prepare detailed project reports and then begin the said works.
From 2002 to 2005, every constituency was allotted Rs 25 lakh under this fund. This amount increased to Rs 1 crore in the 2006-2007 fiscal. In 2013-14, the amount was increased to Rs 2 crore.
The blame game
The government transfers the LAD fund to the official accounts of every Deputy Commissioner in every district.
Once the money is in the said accounts it just sits there. Why?
PM Narendra Swamy, MLA of Malavalli in Mandya district, says that it is “wrong to naturally assume that MLAs are not doing their job.”
“As MLAs and MLCs, we can only supply our proposals to the Deputy Commissioners. It is the bureaucrats who don’t release funds. The proposal will just get caught up in all the bureaucratic maze. By the time the proposal gets either accepted or rejected, the time period to use the funds lapses,” he said.
Speaking to TNM on condition of anonymity, a Congress leader said that most often, bureaucrats “find a way to delay the works”.
“The usual excuse is that the file is being processed. When we challenge that explanation, either the file is misplaced or they come up with some other excuse. They have so many excuses,” the Congress leader said.
In October 2016 and in June this year, several MLAs and MLCs had lodged complaints against the bureaucrats. They had alleged that the bureaucratic red tape had resulted in them not being able to utilise the funds allotted to their constituencies.
BJP MLC Kota Poojary said that the problem could be solved only if the rules pertaining to the Karnataka Legislators Local Area Development Scheme’s rules are amended.
Refuting the claims of the legislators, the bureaucrats have their own version of how things pan out and have put the blame squarely on the legislators.
Speaking to TNM, a senior official with the Uttara Kannada Deputy Commissioner’s Office said that it was the legislators who do not follow rules.
“Most of the MLAs and MLCs never follow the KLLADS rules when they file their proposals. Also, we cannot just release funds for every proposal all at once. The money is allotted in instalments only for approved plans. These plans are approved by the implementing agencies concerned,” the senior official added.
However, Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada district SS Nakul told TNM that the funds have been released for several projects but the problem was the slow pace at which the projects were being executed. “We release funds at different stages. If the work is slow, you must ask the contractor of the said works,” he added.