In a move that may bring transparency and minimise political discrimination in distribution of development funds among panchayats, Punjab chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal has issued directions that all grants for the development of rural areas by different departments will be first credited to the gram panchayat account.
The order follows a direction by the Punjab and Haryana high court after several panchayat representatives moved it, alleging discrimination in disbursal of funds.
In a recent letter to deputy commissioners, additional deputy commissioners (development) and administrative secretaries, the chief secretary has made it clear that the state will have no jurisdiction to issue any particular direction to panchayats to spend any amount in a particular manner.
Earlier, when the grants were distributed through cheques by Shioramni Akali Dal-appointed ‘halqa in-charges’ or other ruling party leaders, there were reports of huge discrimination against those panchayats which are not governed by the ruling party.
“Under the existing system wherein grants are distributed through cheques, many complaints came where panchayat members complained of delay in delivery of cheques or alleged that panchayat grants were being diverted to some other purposes,” said a district development and panchayat officer (DDPO) posted in Doaba region.
The letter also says that the state would not have rights to issue release of amount in favour of a particular agency, unless the gram panchayat passes a resolution and release the funds in favour of the same in a phased manner.
Earlier, funds were given to the public works department (PWD) or the state mandi board for carrying out development works.
In case the executive agency is not the panchayat, it has to release the funds to the agency approved by it in the resolution within seven days of the receipt of the fund, the letter says.
“Panchayats would be under legal obligation to ensure that if any particular amount is received by way of grant-in-aid under any particular scheme or for a particular work, the said amount shall be spent accordingly only for that particular work. The spending has to be under the particular scheme under which the grants have been issued,” it reads.
In its directive on the issue, the high court had upheld that any development work to be carried out by the panchayat would be supervised by government agencies, including the engineering wing of the rural development department.
“If complied properly, these orders can bring transparency and give more powers to the elected village bodies. It would definitely minimise the role of halqa in-charges in spending of funds and can curb corruption,” said former Jalandhar Cantonment MLA and Congress leader Jagbir Brar, who had served as a BDPO before joining politics.