States siphon off Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan funds

March 9th, 2008 - 9:58 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of P. Chidambaram
By Sanjay Singh
New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) At least six states have siphoned off funds to the tune of Rs.471 million meant for the central government’s flagship educational programme Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), say top government officials. The states, according to senior human resources development ministry officials, are Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and they have been told to make good the loss.

“These states will pay back money they had drained off and plough back the same for the SSA project,” a senior ministry functionary told IANS. The central government bankrolls 65 percent of funds for the SSA project while the state governments’ share is 35 percent.

The total budget for SSA stands at Rs.131 billion and the scheme’s operation has come under severe flak from India’s official auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).

Gujarat, which is on the defaulters list, has agreed to pay back all dues towards unaccounted expenditure meant for the SSA project while the other states have agreed to reimburse the money in a phased manner.

The CAG report released last year also noted that SSA was not meeting the set targets and the dropout rates in schools were abnormally high.

In fact an earlier report that was released in 2006 came down even harder on the flagship programme that aims to universalise elementary education. The report highlighted financial irregularities in 14 states that ran to almost Rs.472 million.

Specifically it pointed to Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh that were spending monies on projects that did not come under the ambit of SSA.

Besides the misuse of funds, the ministry has also come across cases of fraud committed by government officials connected with the project around the country.

In one such case, an assistant accounts officer supervising the SSA project in Andhra Pradesh diverted Rs.149.8 million to unauthorised bank accounts. The matter is under investigation.

“We have asked state governments to monitor the scheme strictly in the light of these complaints,” said a ministry official.

But, despite all the complaints and irregularities that have cropped up in this scheme, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has set aside an additional Rs.25 billion for the scheme in his budget from its earlier outlay of Rs.106.71 billion.

A total of Rs.344 billion has been set aside for the education sector.

Independent monitoring agencies and auditors appointed by the ministry have also failed to check irregularities in the absence of an effective regulator in states.

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