After Mid DAY's expose on how the state Women and Child Development department spent most of its budget on the undiscerning purchases of expensive commodities ('Do the starving really need a Rs 12,000 carpet?') while starving kids in the state were robbed of food, another shocking instance of wasteful expenditure in the name of the deprived has come to light, this time in State departments such as Social Justice and Tribal Development.

On June 30, the Social Justice department issued an order for printing a 10-page brochure, to publicise its welfare schemes meant for the scheduled castes.

The Mid Day reports carried on September 1 and 3

A copy of the said order is with SMD. Almost 1.64 lakh copies of the Rs 175 brochure, to be circulated in government offices and student hostels run by the department, set its funds back by Rs 2.88 crore.

Sources say the Finance Department had strongly objected to the proposal, saying the same amount could be utilised for the direct benefit of eligible people instead.

But the department's aggressive stance on the subject meant that the Finance Department was forced to accord its approval. However, the proposal was cut down to Rs 2.88 crore from the original of Rs 4 crore plus, says a senior official, requesting anonymity.

It's the same case with the Tribal Development department, which released an amount of Rs 9.65 crore for banners on 2x3 size tin sheets for the publicity of various schemes meant for tribal communities, even before work on the banners could commence.
"Over 1.70 lakh such banners are still to be visible across the state even after the funds were sanctioned," says another senior government official, on condition of anonymity. Similarly, Rs 4.5 crore was spent on 72-page booklets of A4 size paper.

It doesn't end there. Sources tell us that on March 31, 2011, the last date of the financial year 2010-2011, the Social Justice department sanctioned Rs 9.23 crore for the supply of micro-nutrients to students of residential schools run for the children of nomadic tribes.

Each bottle of 200 ml micro-nutrients was purchased at an inflated price of Rs 49.50, a 10 ml bottle of Tonex iron syrup at Rs 34.50, (a copy of the order is with SMD), for 2.65 lakh beneficiary students.

"The funds were sanctioned on the last day of the year, so how was the money withdrawn on the same day even though supply was yet to take off?" points out the official.

In all these cases, the fact that funds were released just a day or two before the expiry of the financial year deadline is a clear indication that the departments concerned just wanted to display token figures of having utilised the amount allotted to them by purchasing items at an inflated cost, as Mid DAY reported on September 1 ('450 kids starve to death in 4 months').

"Such orders, issued during the last days of the financial year are interesting as no supply could be ensured before the government released money to the suppliers", says a Mantralaya official who was until recently with Finance department, confirms.

Similarly, the Tribal Development department sanctioned Rs 7 crore for the supply of vitamin syrup in January 2011 and Rs 15 crore for toys for children at anganwadis, meant for tribal children, on March 14, 2011. On the same day, Rs 55 crore was sanctioned for the supply of biscuits and chikkies.

The department also issued an order sanctioning Rs 2 crore for micro-nutrients on March 24, for tribal children. From March 28 to 31, the Tribal Welfare department issued orders worth Rs 65 crore for audio visual and printed material for teaching at residential schools, booklets for publicity, solar heaters and napkins, phenyl and soaps and a biometric attendance system.

All this, while 47,000 children in the Vidarbha region have been found to be malnourished, and over 450 children have reportedly died from malnutrition in Nashik alone.

Number crunching
The annual budget for the Social Justice department is approximately Rs 7,000 crore. Of this, Rs 3,400 to Rs 3,500 crore is reserved for welfare and development schemes while the rest is utilised to meet administrative costs.

The 2010-11 budget for the Tribal Development department was Rs 2,900 crore, while the 2011-12 budget was Rs 3,600 crore.