By Dr Rekha Chinnappa K (in picture)
The Modi government recently announced Rs 548 crore special package for Karnataka, mainly for Kodagu, towards flood relief and rehabilitation. Similarly contributions were made to Karnataka Chief Minister’s Relief Fund by individuals and organizations after the landslides struck Kodagu (Coorg) in August.
It is critical to ensure proper disbursement/utilization of the funds and material.
However after public memory of the flood recedes the political leadership has scope to divert these funds to any of the other 29 districts across Karnataka. The CM is vested with almost unbridled powers to administer and allocate these resources elsewhere.
Which government agency audits the CM’s Relief Fund remains a grey area unlike expenditure of other public funds, with clear cut rules and procedure audited by the Principal Account General of Karnataka? Perhaps there may be an internal audit which is more in the nature of a skeletal audit. To that extent it is not a neutral agency but under the CM indirectly and therefore would not be objective in its findings.
Moreover, such an audit if at all takes place is a mere formality for the record and of absolutely no consequence. The checks and balances in the system of audit of public funds from the Consolidated Funds of the government, is that the audit report of the Accountant General of each department is placed before the Public Accounts Committee of the respective State Legislative Assembly and is open to public scrutiny.
However this protocol is not applicable to the allotment and expenditure incurred under the CM’s RF.
Generally, the Disaster Management Wing of the State Revenue Department monitors the collection of funds/relief operations. However, now the CM has decided to monitor these funds himself. The collection of funds through different channels was sourced into a separate set of accounts. To streamline the fund collection process, the CM tied up with the Digital Wallet Company Paytm. The CM’s Secretariat has uploaded details on the website about the funds collected till now. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s audit report shows that the money donated to the RF is invested in Fixed Deposits. However there is no transparency on the fund distribution mechanisms. While the CM’s RF in Kerala is fully administered through electronic media and statistics are available online, the same is not available for the CM’s RF in Karnataka.
Earlier Karnataka raised Rs 51.66 crores as donation to Chief Minister’s fund for the Tsunami, Orissa flood relief and Gujrat earthquake. But only Rs 26.9 crores was released for the respective causes. These figures per se are not very encouraging as the money lies idle which is poor financial management.
For instance, in June 2006 soon after the BJP government assumed office in Karnataka then Chief Minister reportedly diverted 400 tonnes of complex and DAP fertiliser which was meant for Haveri district was diverted to Shikaripura, the then CM’s political constituency. Evidently this was done at the behest of the CM’s family members. Knowledge of this act of commission became public thanks to an investigative report in a leading English newspaper. Given the tendency of politicians and bureaucrats to be inspired by precedents, such an act could recur this time around, considering the government could fudge figures to misuse these funds.
After the CM’s RF was created within three days donors contributed Rs 5.5 crores which was directly credited; besides, Rs 22.75 crores was credited online. Also the Digital Wallet Company, Paytm transferred Rs three crores, besides other official funds across the states and the globe which further enriched the RF. Besides various departmental corporations, educational institutions, film fraternities and other bodies liberally donated between Rs 10 lakhs and Rs one crore through DDs/cheques to the RF.
The contribution from the other private individuals and organizations accounted to Rs three crores. The Karnataka State Government Employees Association and the Government Medical Officers Association have pooled in Rs 102 crores and Rs 2.5 crore respectively. The NRI’s made liberal contributions which totaled to Rs 22.7 crores out of which1 Rs 3.6 crores were through cheques/ DD’s.
Besides funds have also been sourced through NGOs which include Rotary Misty Hills, Madikeri, Kodava Samaj Flood Relief fund, Coorg Wellness Foundation, Lions Club, Madikeri, Wandertrails Service Pvt Ltd, Bangalore, Yuvaka Sanga Sampigekatte, Somwarpet, Mysore City Corporation, Kodagu Educational and Social Trust. The Deputy Commissioner’s Relief Fund is for house construction. Most of these NGOs visit various relief centers and hand over the cash contributions.
It is a paradox that the funds have yet to reach all the beneficiaries in Kodagu which has just undergone a natural calamity and resulted in a humanitarian crisis. Over a month the government ought to have analyzed the damages and made financial allocations to execute various projects to rehabilitate affected citizens. The first step is a White Paper that spells out the government’s plans followed by status reports and timelines to utilize funds.
It is alarming that there are absolutely no updates on the Deputy Commissioner, Kodagu’s website about collection and disbursement of funds. Unless governmental agencies work with empathy the administration of funds cannot be effective.
It is important to empower local bodies such as village panchayats and other local associations who have a good grasp of the ground reality and appoint ombudsmen along with government officials to channelize funds to appropriate sectors and individuals. The Deputy Commissioner should chalk out the schedule of development work in conjunction with local citizen’s bodies and other NGOs to speed up the relief and rehabilitation work. Clearly the planning, organizing and execution committees should streamline their efforts to hasten rehabilitation work to normalize life in the flood hit taluks of the district.
(The writer is a Lecturer with the Department of Commerce at Cauvery College, Gonikoppal, Kodagu)