The Assembly on Thursday witnessed heated exchanges between Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac and the opposition over the financial health of local bodies in the state. According to the finance minister, things could not have been better. As for the opposition, never before had local bodies been so starved of funds.
Both sides hurled conflicting figures of pending bills at each other. The finance said over 95 per cent of the money in the bills of completed works that had queued up in the treasury till March 31 last fiscal has been released to the local bodies. Not impressed, the opposition said that the government had virtually cut nearly 50 per cent of the plan funds of local bodies this fiscal. The opposition then staged a walkout in protest.
The issue was moved as an adjournment motion by Congress MLA K C Joseph. Joseph's charge was that the finance minister was starving the local bodies of development funds by asking them to find the money for the spillover projects of last fiscal from the ongoing fiscal's allotment.
“The government has also issued an order saying that the money for the bills that were submitted last fiscal should also be included in the plan funds of the ongoing fiscal,” Joseph said.
The Congress leader said that if bills had queued up, it was not the fault of the local bodies. “Whenever a bill is submitted, the government says that there is no money in the treasury,” Joseph said. Moreover, he said this time the government had set March 23 as the last date to submit bills for completed works. “To make it worse, no bills were accepted after March 27,” he said. Earlier, bills were accepted right till midnight on March 31, the last day of the fiscal.
Joseph gave the example of Kannur Municipal Corporation. Its total plan fund allocation is Rs 49 crore. But the spillover is Rs 14.99 crore and the worth of its bills kept in the treasury queue is Rs 11 crore. “This means that nearly half the annual plan allocation has already been taken up by last year's projects,” he said.
According to him, this will lead to a situation where the local bodies will have to revise their annual plan, which was firmed up last December itself, and inordinately delay the implementation of projects.
The finance minister said there was no need for worry. He said that Rs 808 crore of the Rs 837 crore in the queue last fiscal has been released to the local bodies. “Only Rs 28 crore remains to be given,” Isaac said.
Further, Isaac said the plan fund utilisation of local bodies during 2018-19 was 85 per cent, an all-time record. “Now, the utilisation is 85 per cent but we have allowed a carry over of 20 per cent. This means that the carry over will be higher than the Rs 837 crore that was queued up in the treasury,” Isaac said.
If there are any local bodies that have a carry over of more than 20 per cent, Isaac said, it had happened out of sheer inefficiency. Meaning, the funds allotted to them would lapse. Later, after the opposition referred to the floods and elections, the finance minister said he was willing to consider making up for the losses of local bodies that had a carry over of more than 20 per cent.
Even this apparently did not assuage the opposition. “Our question is whether the money for last fiscal's bills will be included in this fiscal plan funds, thereby effectively shrinking the plan fund,” Muslim League leader M K Muneer said. The finance minister did not give a clear answer but just said that it would still not be a problem. Isaac seemed to suggest that local bodies would not suffer funds shortage.