Pragmatic Budgeting

Budgeting being done as a regular annual feature at Centre, State and UT levels to introduce new programmes/schemes and address wanting areas/activities, J& K has been no exception. Ensuring  just, equitable and sustainable development of all the districts  has been one of the common slogans shared in hustings and public offices by all the parties/ persons who held the reins of power and governance. Five year planning model with yearly interval and annual financial statement (commonly known as budget), a medium of providing funds down to the lowest level of appropriation unit and object head have been adopted with a view to focusing on the core of the growth pole banishing any diversion/deviation  to execute the planned functions.  Period of 12 months stretching from 1st of April to 31st of March has been taken as a financial year instead of calendar year most probably to synchronize with the national and the international dealings. In J & K a small number of districts enjoy fair weather conditions throughout the year. Out of the 20 districts comprising J & K almost 12 districts constituting 60 percent of the of the total populace are writ large with rough weather conditions where temperatures plummet below zero degree. The natural fall out of this unchangeable sky & space order is the limited working season from April to November at the most each year. The squeezed working season affects adversely nearly all the indoor/outdoor activities especially those relating to construction/infrastructure works. Instances of time and cost over-run projects become the easy predictions as the time lapses forcing surrender of funds before the financial year ends.

Since geography cannot be altered, planning and the inhabitants thereto have to adapt to force-majeure. These districts have in place no mechanism to avoid lapsing of funds. Funds released, sometimes less than required or disproportionate to population, in the month of April and works started thereafter up to November make a short working season  hardly of seven month a year, if  no untoward thing happens, with the result often a portion of funds remains unutilized. As a financial norm these unutilized funds are surrendered and utilized for other districts /works for which these are not actually earmarked. This practice has continued for these weather beaten & administratively forgotten districts since the inception of planning  and is an unread history. Policy devisors and the implementers have a great role to play in ensuring that budget provisions fructify constructively in promoting inclusive development of all districts. Much needs to be heard from the governments for equitable & judicious development of all districts. The balloon of tall claims of impartial and balanced treatment gets punctured as the inter district imbalances widen annually. Believing in  the veracity of  figures  published  in Greater Kashmir,  dated 5-3-2017 for comparison  in case of one weather torn capital district Srinagar and the two all weather districts  of Reasi and Kathua visa-a-vis population, fiscals & annual increase the skewed position can easily be understood from the tabulated data.

Name of the districtPopulation in lakhsBudget Allocation 2016-17 in croresBudget Allocation 2017-18 in croresPercentage increase
Srinagar12.501001022
Reasi3.141391445
Kathua6.151611698

One of the possible ways can be to treat the allotment of funds for these districts as non-lapsable ceteris–paribus. Another can be to approve administratively and sanction technically all the planned works and allow all the departments to take up for execution all these works/programmes in anticipation of funds and book the expenditure on monthly/quarterly basis. This will not create liability as the expenditure is incurred within the ongoing financial year. By the time funds are actually available, authorities concerned would have sufficient time for extempore testing, inspections, measurements, alterations, innovations, additions and pre-checking of bills presented for payment. Any alteration in the requirement of funds necessitated by works/programmes under stages of implementation can be met through revised estimates or budget estimates to avoid spill–over of liabilities. This will reduce expenditure  on Maintenance & Repairs of works executed under compulsion during unsuitable weather conditions  telling upon economy, quality, structural soundness  of these works  thereby  leading to instant & massive repairs than expected as per the laid down engineering & architectural standards. Moreover, there will be no rush of expenditure at the fag end of neither financial year nor little time for release of funds, taking up of works & services and booking expenditure thereto. This will obviate errors of omission and the compensating errors in accounting. The treasuries and the  banks will  not be overloaded with the disbursement of cash, effecting money transfers or adjustment of various instruments for credits/debts and subsequent squaring up of accounts at the close of the fiscal  year.

Budgeting is not spending money only but achieving of prioritised targets during that fiscal. Its implementation having no substantial anchorage in the stakes of the targeted area is no less than a joke. Unless and until any modus-operandi better catering to this objective is not exercised the dream of balanced growth & development of these districts will continue to get humiliated from the stages and the secretariat. If the issue has missed the attention of timely governments, which should not have been, the legislatures/ representatives, civil society members and non-governmental organisations can not absolve themselves of the responsibility of reminding and suggesting the government to act on the situation. This will generate a sense of belonging and oneness needed for nation building besides serving the purpose of pragmatic budgeting. This chronic malady should not be brushed aside to turn malignant. Equitable development should not run ransom to divergent political shades used as whip with government. If constitutional provisions are amended, tunnels laid underneath the seas & across the mountains, space missions launched, it is neither tough nor problematic that some provisions of Financial Code, Treasury Rules and General Financial Rules are amended to suit the geographical milieu of J & K for dealing with the genuine necessity of these weather hit pockets and arrest the stride of the silent tool of exploitation forthwith. There is no room for any nonchalance towards this. The helmsmen are expected to have a better methodology for full utilization of funds now and not leave the half paralysed body unattended.

The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer and Consultant in the A.G’s Office Srinagar.