TDB to approach HC seeking more autonomy in spending for projects

A project worth Rs four crore to renovate the pond at Ganapathi Temple, Kottarakara has been pending with the audit department for the past three years.
Travancore Devaswom Board will approach the High Court seeking more autonomy in spending funds for development initiatives.
Travancore Devaswom Board will approach the High Court seeking more autonomy in spending funds for development initiatives.(File Photo)

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM : The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) will approach the High Court seeking more autonomy in spending funds for development initiatives.

At present, the board requires prior sanction from the Devaswom Ombudsman, state audit department and the High Court to implement projects that cost more than Rs 20 lakh.

A highly placed source in the TDB said the delay in getting clearance from the three institutions is affecting development works.

“The Rs 20 lakh ceiling is applicable for all works except those related to the sanctum sanctorum at temples. In effect, the board has the authority to sanction projects that cost Rs 17 lakh only, because Rs 3 lakh is the GST component,” he said.

The cap on spending came into effect in early 2000. Initially it was for Rs 5 lakh and was raised to Rs 20 lakh in 2016. The board will now request the HC to raise the cap to Rs 50 lakh.

The cumbersome clearance process delayed several development projects, according to the board. A project worth Rs four crore to renovate the pond at Ganapathi Temple, Kottarakara has been pending with the audit department for the past three years. “Recently, the board members faced the ire of the local people during a visit to the temple. People think the delay is due to the apathy of the board. Wonder why the court puts extraordinary restrictions on devaswom boards while other government institutions do not face this issue,” the source said.

According to the board, the audit department makes inordinate delays in vetting projects. “The estimate for a development work is prepared by the TDB’s engineering section. After the board gives administrative sanction, the work is e-tendered. The lowest bid would be forwarded to the ombudsman. After his clearance it is forwarded to the audit department and the court,” the source said.

“The audit department usually sends a set of queries on the proposal. In most cases, when the answers are received, they would send fresh queries. Most of the projects took upto seven months to get clearance,” he said. “There were many cases in which the bidder dropped the work citing cost escalation during the period,” he added.

The renovation of the Sabari Guest House at Sabarimala is another ‘casualty’ of this cumbersome procedure. Three years ago, a Hyderabad-based sponsor had submitted a proposal worth Rs 3.4 crore. But the court objected to it citing the sponsor’s demand to get a few rooms free of cost during the pilgrimage season every year. Following the court’s direction, the board submitted its own development plan worth Rs 1.7 crore. “The proposal vetted by the ombudsman and audit department was objected to by the High Court. The judges then visited the guest house to get first-hand information. We are awaiting a direction from the court this week,” the source said.

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