Parl Panel Pulls Up Agriculture Dept for Surrender of Rs 44,016 Cr in 3 Years; Asks to Utilise Budgeted Amount Fully

A Parliamentary panel has expressed concern over the surrender of funds amounting to Rs 44,015.81 crore in three financial years, including the current fiscal, by the Department of Agriculture and said corrective measures should be taken to ensure full utilisation of the budgeted amount.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Food Processing has laid its report on the department in the Lok Sabha on March 13 and in the Rajya Sabha on March 14.

“The Committee note from the reply of the Department that funds have been surrendered amounting to Rs 23,824.54 crore, Rs 429.22 crore and Rs 19,762.05 crore during 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 (tentative), respectively. That means Rs 44,015.81 crore in total have been surrendered by the Department in these years,” the report said.

The committee have been informed that the surrender of funds is mainly on account of less requirement under NES (North Eastern States), SCSP (Schedule Caste Sub-Plan) and Tribal Area Sub-Plan (TASP) components, it added.

The panel said that the practice of surrender of funds must be avoided by all means henceforth so that the tangible benefits accrued from the schemes are allowed to percolate to the ground level in an optimum manner.

The Committee has recommended that the department should identify avoidable reasons leading to surrender of funds and “take corrective measures to ensure that the funds are utilized fully and efficiently.” The report mentioned that the Department has made provisions for the Supplementary Demands of Rs 22,245.51 crore during 2022-23 (tentative) and at the same time is surrendering funds not utilized by it amounting to Rs 19762.05 crore.

“The Committee are constrained to note that raising supplementary demands on one hand and surrender of funds on the other are incompatible and reflects on the expenditure planning done by the Department,” the report said.

The Committee asked the Department to undertake the planning of utilization of allocated funds seriously and ensure expenditure of the funds in the planned and stipulated manner.

According to the report, the Department of Agriculture has been allocated Rs 1,10,531.79 crore for 2023-24 at BE (budget estimate) stage, which is 4.56 per cent more than RE (revised estimate) of Rs 1,10,254.53 crore for 2022-23.

The actual utilization of funds for 2022-23 (as on January 27, 2023), with respect to RE stands at 58.78 per cent.

The panel said that this means that the Department needs to strive hard to fully utilize the funds in remaining period of one month or more of 2022-23 which seem to be an arduous task.

The Committee said the BE is a better source to compare with the actual expenditure rather than the RE.

Moreover, the Department has not been able to stick to its monthly expenditure plan during 2022-23 so far, it added.

The Committee said that the department should strive hard to ensure optimum utilisation of the allocated RE funds by sticking to the monthly/ quarterly expenditure plan in consonance with the guidelines issued by the Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance from time to time.

They feel any rush of expenditure in the last quarter of the year should invariably be avoided at all costs, the report said.

“The Committee note that the Department has admitted in its replies that the proportion of budgetary allocations made in favour of the Department in terms of the percentage out of the total budget of the Government of India during the years 2020-21, 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24 stood at 4.41 per cent, 3.53 per cent, 3.14 per cent and 2.57 per cent, respectively,” the report said.

The total budget outlay of the central government in 2020-21 was Rs 30,42,230.09 crore, which increased to Rs 45,03,097.45 crore in 2023-24. “Taking into account the prominent role played by Agriculture in rural livelihood, employment generation and food security of the country, the Committee recommend the Department to take up the issue of budgetary allocation in percentage terms out of Central Pool with the Ministry of Finance and ensure that trend is reversed from the next Budget onwards,” the report said.

While replying to its concern about utilization of funds during 2022-23, the panel informed that the Department has submitted that taking into account the proposals in the pipeline, the entire Budget during the current FY 2022-23 is likely to be utilised except the quota allocated under mandatory provision for NE States where the utilisation is restricted on account of low cultivable area, non-release of matching share by those States and community landholding.

“This, in turn, clearly indicates that the Department has admitted that it will not be able to fully utilise the funds allocated to it even before the close of Financial Year 2022-23,” the report said.

Since the Department is aware of the reasons/factors, which hamper 100 per cent utilization of funds available, it should suitably modify its Schemes including the funding pattern as well as method of implementation, so that effective and optimal utilization of funds earmarked for agriculture Sector can be ensured, the panel said.

Stating that there are two major crop seasons – Kharif and Rabi, the panel said that the Department should consider the release of funds for Centrally Sponsored Schemes in two instalments of 50 per cent each as was being done in the past instead of the present scheme of four equal instalments of 25 per cent each. This would reduce the time lag in the implementation of the schemes, reduce documentation time and will enable expeditious payments.

The department should take up the matter with the Department of Expenditure for suitable modification of the existing guidelines in view of the fact that Agriculture is State subject, the report said.

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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)

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