The union ministry of human resource development (HRD) has detected serious irregularities in the implementation of the centrally-sponsored Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in Punjab.
The union ministry, which got financial and management review of activities of the implementing authority for the period between 2008-09 and 2010-11 done through a reputed government audit agency, has found irregular release of funds, improper advance payments to staff, non-utilisation of grants, failure to release the state share according to the funding pattern and diversion of funds in violation of the established norms.
The audit team, which scrutinised the accounts of the Punjab SSA mission authority, found that grants worth Rs 33.12 crore were lying unutilised with the district project offices in the state. This included grants of over Rs 2 crore released to field offices between 2002-03 and 2007-08.
While most of these grants are to be utilised within the same financial year, the failure of the implementation agency to keep track of funds released or utilise them within the stipulated period raises serious questions about its working.
The failure of the cash-strapped Punjab government to release its share and on time as per the 35:65 funding pattern has also come into question. Though the state is required to release its share within 30 days after the release of instalment by the Centre, the state government delayed release of its funds by more than three months at times.
The HRD ministry sent the findings of the audit report to the state government in August 2011. “We have not received reply from the project implementation society,” a ministry official told Hindustan Times.
A scrutiny of records including statements of loans and advance payments by the auditors revealed that advance payments of Rs 4.42 crore were outstanding against 43 officers and other employees of the state implementation society as on March 31, 2010, though norms require them to settle all advance payments and submit utilisation certificates within one month after the end of the year.
“The reasons for non-adjustment or non-recovery were not on record,” the audit report says Similarly, questions have been raised about the utilisation of funds meant for innovative activities under the ‘Early Childhood Care and Education’ component where Rs 6 crore was transferred by the Punjab SSA authority to the department of social security, women and child development in February 2010 and June 2010 for purchase of teaching learning material and pre-school kits for anganwadis being operated under the Integrated Child Development Scheme.
· Advance payments of Rs 4.42 crore outstanding against 43 employees
· Rs6 crore given for anganwadis for pre-school kits which were not being used
· Funds releases by the government delayed and short of stipulated share
· Irregular payment of salary amounting to Rs 108 crore made to PRI teachers
· Irregularities in maintenance of stocks, advance payments and cash records
While the department did not submit the expenditure statement and utilisation certificates to the authority in time despite reminders, the audit team found a report in the authority’s office record which showed that a random sample checking of anganwadi centres in rural and urban areas of 20 districts of the state to check the condition and usage of pre-school kits revealed that the kits were either not being used in most centres or were even missing in some cases. “In some cases, the pre-school kits had been taken home by the centre anganwadi workers on the pretext that these would be damaged by the children,” it said.
The auditors have come down hard on the financial management mechanism of the Punjab SSA authority, citing irregularities in maintenance of cash book record, bank reconciliation, non-maintenance of stock and advance payments, laxity in asset verification.