Gauhati High Court dismisses PIL seeking direction for CBI investigation for misuse of funds under 14th Finance Commission to local bodies
The Gauhati High Court recently , dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed seeking a direction for having an investigation made by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the allegations in respect of funds under 14th Finance Commission to Local Bodies for the period 2017-20 to the extent of Rs.195,24,70,000/- has either been misappropriated and/ or the schemes were partially and improperly implemented, thereby affecting the interest of a common person.
The PIL has been filed by one Likha Rajnik .
By referring to the documents annexed , the counsel for the petitioner has submitted that Central Funds to the extent of more than approximately Rs.5000 crore was allocated for the year 2017-20 for Rural Local Bodies and that similar amount was separately allocated for Urban Local Bodies, being the Central Funds and the State was also required to give proportionate share as indicated in the guidelines.
The counsel for the petitioner has referred to the Government of India guidelines as issued by the Department of Expenditure, Ministry of Finance as circulated to the Chief Secretary of all States by letter dated 08.10.2015. It is submitted that a huge amount of money was re-deposited to the State Nodal Account and that although the petitioner had sought for disclosure of relevant documents by RTI application dated 09.09.2020, the concerned PIO by reply dated 20.10.2020, disclosed only four sanction orders as well as two page documents towards the re-deposit order.
In this regard, the counsel for the petitioner places reliance that no expenditure was to be incurred from 14th Finance Commission Development Funds, as such direction was issued by the Deputy Director (RE) Panchayati Raj to all the DC/DPDO/Zila Parishad/Gram Panchayat Authority to immediately deposit the amount to the State Nodal Account, which contains the following components; viz- (1) development activities schemes for FFC Rs.10972.50 lakh; (2) Kitchen Garden (seeds) Rs.350.00 lakh; (3) Mask & Sanitizer 2400.00 lakh; (4) Incentive Rs.1526.00 lakh, aggregating to be Rs.15,248.50 lakh.
The Counsel for the petitioner further alleged that no Utilization Certificates have been furnished to him pursuant to RTI query and moreover, the requisite documents relating to re-deposit of money have also not been furnished to the petitioner vide RTI reply and therefore, this is a case where the entire funds in the State, which were received from the 14th Finance Commission, was misappropriated.
While considering the PIL , the Itanagar Bench of Justice Kalyan Rai Surana and Justice Robin Phukan observed that out of the four sanction orders which have been annexed to the PIL, on the query of the Court as to in this respect of which sanction order, money was shown to have been spent but corresponding benefit to the beneficiary had not percolated. In this regard, the counsel for the petitioner could not show from the statements made in the PIL that a particular beneficiary should have been provided with the benefit of the scheme, had actually not received such kind of benefit. Therefore, there is no pleading of any material particularly showing that in what manner the guidelines in reference have not complied with and/or how any public money has been embezzled. Therefore, to collect such information, the Court has to make fishing and roving enquiry, which is not permissible in a PIL.
The grievance of the petitioner is that the requisite documents relating to re-deposit and the Utilization Certificate are not provided to the petitioner. The Court is not inclined to appreciate the said submission because of the fact that if the Government has decided not to utilize 14th Finance funds for procurement of the four items indicated above, then the State would have no fund Utilization Certificate, having directed the authorities to return the money by re-depositing into the State Nodal Account. By no stretch of imagination, the non-acceptance of Central funds by the State could amount to either misappropriation of Central funds or non utilization of the funds appropriately.
It is noted by the Bench that the petitioner has also not been able to demonstrate that he has an indivisible right to have access to financial data, which would be available to the Government Treasury. There is no public interest involved for the petitioner to know the financial data belonging to State Exchequer. Moreover, if RTI information was not provided, the RTI Act provides for statutory remedy, which was not exhausted.
Having regard to the fact that the State did not utilize the funds of 14th Finance Commission, the Court held that it cannot be said that the guidelines would still have to be adhered to as nothing could be shown that the said guidelines are applicable if funds were not utilized by the State from the grants made by the 14th Finance Commission. Accordingly, the Court does not find that any legal or fundamental right of any citizen to have been infringed, if the State Government has decided to not utilize the 14th Finance Commission funds for the said schemes.
“From the averments made in this PIL, there is absolutely no material on record to show that the beneficiary earmarked for any scheme has been deprived of any benefit or that instead of the particular beneficiary, any fake person or any person who was otherwise deserving benefit from out of the 14th Finance Commission grants, which was ordered to be re-deposited, had not got such benefit”, the order reads.