Expenditures at the Local Level: Untying the Gordian Knot
Getting to know how much money is spent in each panchayat by the government, is easier said than done. At first sight, it might sound a simple thing to meet all officials of the departments concerned and ask them to segregate their expenditure on a panchayat-wise basis. Having got our permissions from the District Panchayat CEO, we thought that we had the cat in the bag.
We began to hit air pockets the moment we commenced our meetings with the departmental officers.
Take the office of the Animal Husbandry department, for instance. One of the main activities of the department is to vaccinate cattle and hold free health camps for them. While they have extension centres, they do not have them in every panchayat; therefore cattle are brought from near and far for their treatments. Furthermore, vaccination camps are taken up in the traditional temple festivals, which are always accompanied by animal fairs where several thousand cattle congregate. When vaccinations are taken up here, no records are kept of the villages from where farmers have come with their cattle. Therefore, we had to abandon our search for panchayat-wise expenditure of the Animal Husbandry department.
In the case of the Women and Child Welfare Department, since they maintain Anganwadis (pre-school and infant creches and feeding centres for pregnant and lactating women), expenditure details were available for each one of them. However, two problems presented itself in obtaining this information. For management purposes, the Anganwadis are organised into clusters, each one headed by a supervisor. The cluster is not co-terminus with the boundaries of either the village panchayat or the next level of local government, the taluk panchayat. Therefore, rearranging cluster wise data panchayat-wise, was a tedious task, fraying our collective patience. And what of the expenses of the supervisor? We divided that equally among all the panchayats.
We dealt with the food department by getting details of the essential commodity off-take in each Fair Price Depot and calculating the subsidies on that basis as the expenditure being incurred in each panchayat. That alone totaled to more than Rs. 1 crore per panchayat.
As we went down the list of departments, collecting data, toting the expenditures directly attributable to each panchayat, working out an attribution methodology for the common expenditure incurred on higher level administrative arrangements, we realised that the task of calculating how much money that the government spends in each panchayat was not as easy as it seemed.
Here we were, a research team of six to seven individuals, wading through large excel sheets, rearranging data panchayat-wise. It took us the better part of a year’s work to get to where we wanted. We often wondered, if we were unable to do this in a short space of time, how was anybody in any panchayat capable of obtaining the same details. No wonder, we took to heart, the curt sign in the Council hall of the panchayat of Oorkunte Mittoor.