Shillong, Jan 10: Central funds released by the Finance Ministry worth crores of rupees meant for implementation of area development as well as health and hygiene of the population is alleged to have been diverted and misused by the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) to pay pending salaries of its staff, as recent as last year, it has now been revealed.
The funds in question are of the Basic and Tied Grants released on the recommendation of the 15th Finance Commission to the state governments to hand over to the Rural Local bodies.
The Rural Local Bodies in Meghalaya are the GHADC, KHADC and JHADC.
A total of 182 Crores (91 Basic and 91 Tied Grant) was released in two separate installments by the Ministry of Finance, Govt of India, early last year, as per government documents available.
While the Basic Grant allows utilization of location specific needs, it does not allow the same funds to be used for salary disbursement or other establishment expenditure (the order clearly notes).
The Tied Grant can only be used for basic services, particularly sanitation, maintenance of open-defecation free (ODF) status, supply of drinking water, rain water harvesting and water recycling. The guidelines do not allow the funds to be diverted for any other purpose, including salary payments.
However, the new CEM of GHADC, Benedic R Marak, who took charge in April last year is alleged to have given the green signal for release of funds belonging to the Tied Grant to clear several months of pending salaries of the council staff clearly putting him on a collision course with the central officials and the Finance Ministry.
The funds worth several crores were released in separate phases to clear pending salaries and the last such release is said to have taken place in December, 2021.
The GHADC has expected to replenish the empty coffers with additional funds it expected early this month, but that appears to have now come a cropper.
With all revenue sources drying up the council authorities are said to be moving into seeking financial investment from a multi-crore company investment firm, to the tune of Rs 100 crore. There is apprehension among financial experts in the state that this is going to put the GHADC into years of debt as the council will have to pay back the amount with a high degree of interest and the only asset the district council has happens to be prime property all around Garo Hills.
The district council has been cash strapped for the past three years and depends heavily on the state government to bail it out of one financial crisis after another. It has been managing to run solely on its royalty share obtained from minerals, which has now also become inadequate as the pending dues of staff salary rise with each passing month.
This has been coupled with mismanagement and financial irregularities which has put it in bad light. The previous EC led by CEM Dipul Marak was embroiled in a major controversy over the alleged misuse of Rs. 100 crores of direct funding released by the Centre. The ultimate result was that all the executive members, including CEM Dipul Marak, were voted out of power in last year’s council elections.