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West Bengal cabinet clears land bill sans finance nod
Source: Sep 16, 2011
Though the state government's draft Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Bill has major financial implications, it received the cabinet's stamp without mandatory clearance by the state finance department.
The government's Rules of Business require that every cabinet proposal with financial implications must be vetted by the finance secretary who can raise questions, withhold or clear the proposal. Or, in a word, the finance department must be consulted before sending a proposal that involves any expenditure to the cabinet. Instead the finance department was bypassed before the historic land bill went to the cabinet. The only government officials to have gone through the nitty-gritty of the bill are from the land and land reforms department.
Inquiries by TOI in the state secretariat revealed that no one in the finance department - from the level of the principal secretary down to the level of joint secretary - had any inkling about the bill. However, when the bill becomes law, it'll be left to these very officials to allocate funds from the cash-strapped exchequer whenever an elaborate R&R package has to be worked out for those who give up land for any government project - bridges, hospitals, railway tracks, embankments and infrastructure for internal security.
That the bill lacked the finance department's approval was noticed by some ministers during Wednesday's cabinet meeting. "We thought it wouldn't be proper to raise questions because one could have been overruled. The chief minister is believed to have said that it was enough that finance minister (Amit Mitra) is kept in the loop," said a source in the government.
He explained, "There is a difference between letting the finance minister know and allowing a file to be pushed through the decks of the finance department which would entail extensive analysis of an important proposal."
Another cabinet member admitted that his government was in a hurry to get on with the land bill and wanted to steer clear of administrative hurdles before placing it for an all-party discussion. The state finance department has already been raising questions on the plethora of announcements made by the chief minister in the last three months. The most significant one directly linked to the new government's land policy, is the compensation package for land-losers for the embankment building project in Aila-hit Sunderbans.
Among questions the department raised were how the government would raise resources for providing government jobs to land-losers in Sunderbans, what the total project cost would be, whether it would be generated from the Rs 5,032 crore sanctioned by the Centre in 2009 and if providing the jobs call for additional funds and where these would come from. Last but not the least, the earlier cost (Rs 5,032 crore) accounted for building embankments and acquiring land at the old compensation rates. The new rate (a hiked solacium) had not been accounted for in the new government's proposal which is still awaiting the finance department's approval.
Tag: Govermwnt, finance, State, land reforms
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