N.J. Nair

Fund utilisation expected to rise further

Shortage of staff cited as reason for low utilisation

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The fund absorption rate of local self-government institutions (LSGIs) has increased by seven percentage points during the past one month, taking the utilisation level to 39 per cent from the 31.89 per cent clocked on December 31, 2009.

As per the latest expenditure review, the 152 block panchayats spent Rs.139.67 crore of the total outlay of Rs.266 crore and the district panchayats, Rs.123.33 crore out of Rs.273.97 crore. The 999 grama panchayats utilised Rs.462.30 crore of Rs.1,048.67 crore allocated for 2009-10. The 53 municipalities could spend only Rs.58.55 crore of the Rs.152 crore and the five corporations Rs.30.02 crore of the outlay of Rs.122.14 crore. The utilisation rate of the municipalities has been pegged at 39 per cent and the corporations, the lowest of 25 per cent. Official sources told The Hindu here that the utilisation would go well above 45 per cent within the next few weeks. Shortage of engineers, delay in filling up 1,000 vacancies of village extension officers and the alleged lack of interest among elected members during the election year have been cited as main reasons for the poor utilisation of funds.

The Local Administration Department’s decision to deploy one engineer in every panchayat has been caught up in cases filed by the Irrigation and Public Works Department engineers against redeployment. Hence, the civic bodies were unable to follow the calendar set by the government for starting and completing the civil works. Considering the hike in material prices, the government has permitted the LSGIs to grant tender excess for civil works executed after February 22.

Since there was no provision to revise the tender rates earlier, contractors shied away from taking up such works. This had also affected the utilisation of the funds earmarked for the construction and maintenance of buildings and roads.

The steps for filling vacancies of village extension officers who play a pivotal role in project implementation are moving at a snail’s pace and the first batch of 360 officers will join service next month. The decision to reserve 50 per cent of the seats for women is said to have made most of the sitting male members inactive on the realisation that they would not be able to contest the next election from the same wards in September. There are complaints that being the fag end of the tenure, the officials of the civic bodies are not keen on carrying out the directives of members.