Of grants and governance

Published : May 23, 2003 00:00 IST

Interview with Chief Minister Rabri Devi.

In July 2003, Rabri Devi will complete six years as Chief Minister of Bihar. It is a relatively long stint in office, considering that in the past even persons with long experience in politics have found the going tough in that post. The lathi rally organised by her party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, on April 30 in Patna had led to apprehensions among the people of Patna. But even as the crowds started pouring in and the roads got choked with vehicles ferrying the rallyists, Rabri Devi appeared to be hardly worried. She knew that her husband Laloo Yadav would manage it all. The Chief Minister spoke to V. Krishna Ananth the evening before the rally at her official residence in Patna. Excerpts:

There is a charge against your government that development activity in the State has been neglected and that grants from the Centre are not being utilised.

When have they allotted funds to Bihar? The Centre has not made any allotment to Bihar.

For instance, the Prime Minister's Grameen Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), to ensure rural connectivity. The Centre has sanctioned Rs.350 crores towards this since 2001. But most of the grants have remained unspent.

Who gave you these details? That must be someone from the Union government. Work is going on in this regard.

Can you tell us how much of the funds have been utilised until now?

Wherever the officers find time, they are engaged in laying roads. It is true that we don't have efficient officers to carry out these works. They are not spending all the money allotted for the scheme. The officers are not doing enough. You cannot blame the government for that.

There is a feeling that the PMGSY is not working in Bihar because those civil contractors who could qualify for the award of such works (those who have their own hot-mix plants and experience in handling works worth Rs.1 crore and those willing to commit to maintain the roads for five years) have all left Bihar owing to the deteriorating law and order situation. Will you comment on that?

Yes, the contractors are not coming forward with bids when the tenders are called for. One reason is the restriction placed by the scheme that contracts cannot be given wholesale in these works. Let the Union government deal with this directly.

Figures with the Planning Commission show that the Bihar government has failed to spend a large part of its allocations each year. What is your position on this?

The Planning Commission releases funds only a couple of months after the meeting where the Plan is approved.

How does this explain the return of unutilised funds?

No, that is not correct. We don't return funds. Planning Commission records show that Bihar has been spending at least 30 per cent less than the Plan allocation. It is the responsibility of the officers to spend all the money received. How can you blame the government for that? The officers do not work here and that is why the money is not utilised. The officers here do not want to work and that is the reason.

You mean funds are going unutilised because of laxity among the officials?

It is not laxity. A number of officers are against the government. Apart from this, a number of Bihar cadre officers are on deputation to Central Ministries, about 45 of them. The formation of Jharkhand also led to an exodus of officers and now we are facing a severe shortage of officers, particularly for posts such as Block Development Officers. And when we ask the Centre to undertake the works directly, they do not listen to us.

Non-payment of wages to employees in State government corporations and boards has been reported. Some of them, including the State Road Transport Corporation, have not paid wages since 1994 to its employees, and in some cases only 15 days' salary has been paid (since 2000).

I know this is the situation. A lot of them have been retrenched too. There are very few buses on the road. Most of the buses owned by the BSRTC are condemned and unfit. But what can the government do here? It is not the responsibility of the government; the corporation has to address this question. The fault is with the officers of the corporation. The government cannot do anything on this.

But you have adopted a different attitude in the case of the Bihar State Electricity Board (BSEB). It has been bailed out over the years by allotting funds periodically.

Yes. We release funds to the Board whenever the generating agencies threaten disconnection. The BSEB is in the red because its officers do not do their duty. They let power theft to take place all over the place. The day the government decides to adopt the same standards as it is adopting with the other boards and corporations, those in the BSEB will really regret it.

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