Strident finding, Deafening Silence
‘Misappropriation, negligence, fraudulence, pilferage, incomplete projects, defalcation, fictitious transactions, delay, and overstatements’ are some recurring themes in the annual reports of the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India concerning Nagaland.
In the most recent Audit Report on Social, Economic, Revenue, and General Sectors (Report No. 1 of 2023) ending on March 31, 2022, presented in the State Assembly on September 14, the status quo prevails. Once again, the report highlighted a litany of anomalies. Notable among these were glaring deficiencies in the execution of the Kohima Smart City Mission and the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) program. Equally troubling was the State Government's failure to operationalise a Modern Abattoir, despite a substantial investment of Rs 17.15 crore over a decade.
On the infrastructure front, the report noted that a proposed road connecting Peren district to National Highway-39 remained incomplete for more than a decade, resulting in a wasteful expenditure of Rs 9.21 crore, with excess payments of Rs 7.20 crore identified. Discrepancies totalling Rs 20.09 crore in projects funded through the Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources and the North East Special Infrastructure Development Scheme (NLCPR & NESIDS) were detected in the Agriculture Department.
The State Government had violated Government of India directives by diverting Superior Kerosene Oil worth Rs 19.56 crore (6,113.19 KL) to recipients outside the intended beneficiaries under the Public Distribution System, while lapses by Drawing and Disbursing Officers and Treasury Officers resulted in fraudulent, double, or excessive withdrawals amounting to Rs 2.26 crore, the audit found. Among others, non-assessment of returns from 11 dealers within the stipulated time limit by the Assessing Authority resulted in a loss of revenue amounting to Rs 15.60 crore, it added.
In sum, the report paints a stark picture of a system marred by a severe lack of accountability, insufficient monitoring, and an alarming prevalence of irregularities across all sectors.
These revelations, however, have become all too routine. A similar narrative played out in the State Finances Audit Report (Report No. 1 of 2023) presented in the State Assembly in March 2023. As of March 2022, a staggering 149 Utilisation Certificates (UCs) worth Rs 316.34 crore were outstanding, with some dating back to 2020-21. Additionally, UCs amounting to Rs 81.80 crore, dispersed to 16 Departments as part of 61 grants, was pending for the fiscal year 2022-23.
Regrettably, both reports were tabled in the Assembly without any discernible reaction from the legislators. The general public's response, too, has been lukewarm at best. It is pertinent to note that the CAG's mandate is just to highlight and illuminate the ground realities through its audits, and the onus falls upon the legislators and the public to act upon the findings.
Once tabled in the Assembly, the Reports are automatically referred to the Central and State Standing Committees on Public Accounts (PAC) and Committees on Public Undertakings (COPU). As per the CAG, these specialized committees are entrusted with the responsibility of scrutinizing the Reports and selecting the most critical issues in the public interest for detailed examination, holding hearings with technical support from the auditor. Subsequently, the Committee's reports, encapsulating its findings, actions taken, and recommendations, are submitted to the Legislature. However, the effectiveness of these hearings in ensuring accountability and course correction remains questionable, given the absence of a formal opposition and the apathy of the public.
The persistence of unresolved issues dating back to as early as 2011-12, as revealed by the Action Taken Report submitted in the recent Assembly session regarding the CAG's observations and recommendations, underscores the gravity of this concern.
Thus, the annual CAG reports serve as a recurring reminder of the endemic corruption entrenched at every level of society and government in the State and how it festers with impunity in social, political, and governance spheres. Breaking this vicious cycle necessitates the emergence of a genuine anti-corruption civil society organization in Nagaland. Mere proliferation of social and interest groups, often driven by self-interest, falls short of the transformative change required to instil accountability and good governance in the State.
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