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Utilisation of COVID grants to UP govt under cloud

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The utilisation of Rs 1,441 crore received by the Uttar Pradesh government under grants for rural local bodies appears to be under a cloud after the Centre expedited the payment considering the urgent need of resources to fight the second wave of Covid-19.

The funds have been passed on to the local bodies, but since panchayat heads have yet to take oath after the elections concluded, they cannot formally make use of the resources, said state government officials.

On the other hand, the officers who took charge in place of village heads after their tenure ended in December last year appeared to be unsure of having received the funds. Some of them said the funds have not been received yet but this has not affected any work being undertaken by them in villages.

Meanwhile, people aware of the matter said sanitisation of villages is the only big measure related to the pandemic that panchayat heads are taking on the ground.

The Centre had expedited the release of a total of Rs 8,924 crore of rural local body grants to 25 states on May 8, a month before the funds were to be released, so that the first instalment of the untied grants for this financial year could be utilised, among other things, on prevention and mitigation measures to battle Covid-19 required to be taken at the three-tier panchayat level. This came amid widespread apprehension about the pandemic insidiously affecting the countryside, which has inadequate testing and treatment facilities.

UP received the largest amount of Rs 1,441 crore. According to the recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission, 70-85% of the grants are to be distributed to the village panchayats.

A senior government official in the rural development department of the state told ET on condition of anonymity that while the order for passing the funds on to the village, block and district panchayats was issued on May 13, since the village heads have not yet taken oath, they cannot formally approve of any expenditure done using these funds. The official said the government may take a call on the oath-taking in a couple of days.

After the tenure of village heads came to an end, additional development officers took charge of the panchayats at the village level.

An assistant development officer of block Mawana in Meerut said while the funds have been “allotted”, they have not been received. The officer, who did not wish to be identified, attributed the lag to issues in the banking system but said this has not stopped any work from taking place on the ground and that continuous sanitisation, fogging and anti-larvae spraying were taking place. The official also said banks could take time to pass the amount to 58,000 gram panchayats.

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