Saswat Singhdeo

Bhubaneswar: It seems there is no end to controversies surrounding Odisha government's (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) KALIA scheme. Now a new report has revealed that more than Rs 50 crore was spent towards advertisements and transportation of farmers to organise conventions for KALIA scheme, even before implementation of the initiative.

The development comes close on the heels on the revelation that there were over 3 lakh ineligible beneficiaries who availed assistance under the KALIA scheme.

On February 21 this year, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had inaugurated KALIA scheme during a farmers’ convention in Bargarh. While many farmers were brought to the event from other parts of the State, the tentative budget for transportation of farmers from Kalahandi to & fro Bargarh was quoted as Rs 1 crore. The Odisha State Agricultural Marketing Board (OSAM) had given green signal for utilization of funds available with Regulated Market Committees(RMC) for transportation of farmers to Bargarh.

Following the inaugural convention, CM Naveen Patnaik went on to launch the scheme during events in Puri, Kendrapara and Dhenkanal for which  Director of OSAM Board, Balwant Singh had written to chairpersons of all the RMCs to release funds of Rs 3 lakh to each block.

The funds were meant for facilitation of information, education and communication (IEC) for farmer activities to create awareness under Krushak Sampark Abhiyan. Sources said, a total amount of Rs 9.42 crore was spent for such purposes in 314 blocks. Apart from that, Rs 50,000 was also allocated to every panchayat for the IEC activities making it a total of Rs 32.5 crore for the State.

Besides, each Regional Transport Office was allocated Rs 25 lakh to make arrangements for transportation of farmers making a total of Rs 7.5 crore for the purpose.

Meanwhile, with the report of advance expenditure of crores of rupees coming to fore, the State BJP and Congress units today came down heavily on the Naveen-led government for allegedly misutilising the State exchequer funds.

“The State government has misutilised the public money by giving it to the RTOs. Had these funds been given to farmers directly, it would have helped them a lot more. It seems the government has hoodwinked the entire farming community of the State," said Odisha BJP vice-president Samir Mohanty.

OPCC chief Niranjan Patnaik said, “KALIA scheme was only meant to garner votes. They have spent Rs 68 crore for meetings and other events. We would be happy if they set up an independent inquiry on this.”

When asked about the allegations, Odisha Agriculture Minister Arun Sahoo refused to comment on the matter.

While the Odisha government seemed desperate to spend a huge amount of money on KALIA, it is pertinent to mention that no discussions were held during RMC meetings on the expenditure of funds. Surprisingly a detailed letter of Junagarh RMC has revealed that a proposal for the budget was passed three months after elections i.e in the month of July while the funds were already spent.