Much water may have flowed down the Ganga and Yamuna since Akhilesh Yadav took over as Uttar Pradesh chief minister but very little developmental funds have made their way out of the state government’s departments. Despite clear instructions of the chief minister as well as of Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, most departments have released less than 40 per cent of their budgeted spend, and some even less than 15 per cent (see table).
Chief Secretary Javed Usmani has frequently expressed his concern at the manner in which officers are neglecting the priorities of the state. Usmani has been sending out letters on this issue from time to time but nothing seems to have changed. Last week, Usmani called a meeting of NOIDA officers to review the improvement in Night Safari dream project of the chief minister. The officers did not turn up; a livid Usmani had to cancel the meeting.
The issue has become even more important because Akhilesh is partly driven by the growing restlessness in the SP’s rank and file. The party had called a three-day meet of its office-bearers in Lucknow from October 28, but the event was cancelled indefinitely at the last minute.
The choking of government expenditure is going hand in hand with a worsening law and order situation: seven riots in seven months and communal tension prevailing in half-a-dozen other districts when the festive season is at its peak. The holy town of Faizabad is still under curfew; residents had to celebrate Dussehra and Id-ul-Zuha under the shadow of the guns of the police and paramilitary forces. Curfew has been imposed in Faizabad for the first time in two decades since the demolition of the disputed Babri Masjid structure.
Akhilesh did set a September 30 deadline for the release of funds pertaining to the current financial year 2012-13 but most of departments have failed to meet the deadline. For instance, the labour and employment department could release just less than five per cent of its funds, tourism 10.4 per cent, culture 20.3 per cent, technical education 16 per cent. “There is no denying that most programmes are moving at snail’s pace,” said a senior IAS officer of principal secretary rank, who maintains that the bureaucracy is not solely to blame. “The chief secretary has more than 50 departments reporting to him. He has not been able to hold review meetings of many departments. So who will remove the procedural obstacles? Secondly, the chief minister had been on leave for a substantial period in the last six months, and that has also hampered the movement of crucial files,” said another senior officer. He said that October is almost gone and there is little time left for the execution and completion of works in different departments.
Akhilesh’s opponents point to the chief minister’s own area of operations to support their charge that the rot begins at the top. State police chief Ambrish Chand Sharma has not yet felt the heat of the seven riots that have happened on his watch, they say, alleging that loyalty, not ability, is the chief criterion for appointment in the chief minister’s secretariat. They ask why the chief minister is delaying appointing a district magistrate in Naxal-affected Sonbhadra, or why Mahesh Gupta is still excise commissioner despite, since Akhilesh had himself cried wolf over the “loot” in the excise department in the previous regime. The forest department has not had a secretary for a month, and this despite the chief minister himself holding the portfolio.
Irked by the poor performance of many departments, the chief minister called a meeting of 15 principal secretaries on October 22 and rapped them in no uncertain terms for their slugging performance. “I will not tolerate all this and the funds should be released immediately,” he had said, warning the officers that he would personally inspect the districts from November 7 for feedback of programmes and policies. Erring officers will face action, Akhilesh had said. Leading by example, the chief minister has laid the foundation stone for one of the country’s largest milk processing plants in Lucknow, as well as an IT park and a world-class cancer hospital.
The honeymoon of the Samajwadi poll sweep is near its end; and the clock may soon begin ticking for the young chief minister.