The CM himself signed off on all projects over Rs 2 crore, and is therefore responsible for the state’s financial mess as well as the political one that followed
East Wind Correspondent.
Manipur’s BJP Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, who took away key portfolios from his senior cabinet colleagues Thongam Biswajit Singh and Deputy Chief Minister Y. Joykumar Singh on June 13, thus sparking off serious political instability in the state, is likely to become a victim of his own politics. He may also take his ally, BJP’s Northeast in-charge Ram Madhav, down with him.
The immediate cause of the current crisis was a message from the Reserve Bank of India to the Government of Manipur on June 11 warning it that from the very next day, payments of the Government of Manipur were being stopped owing to the state’s account with RBI being overdrawn in excess of amounts agreed upon. Effectively, the state of Manipur was broke, and would not be able to pay even salaries and pensions from that day on.
This led to panic in the highest echelons of the government. The following day, June 12, an urgent cabinet meeting was convened. A day later, the Chief Minister’s Secretariat put out a press release saying, “The Cabinet authorized the Hon’ble Chief Minister, Manipur, to take all necessary disciplinary actions to imbibe a culture of financial prudence and propriety in key Government departments”.
The measure the CM announced through the press release was that he was taking charge of the Finance department, previously held by the Deputy Chief Minister, and the Public Works and Power departments, previously held by Th. Biswajit. “A thorough investigation of the sanction procedures and financial management would be conducted for all key departments”, the press release announced. “The government is committed to bringing a new phase wherein financial discipline will be the hallmark of governance”.
However, on January 8, the Finance department had already put in place a new procedure for release of funds amounting to more than Rs 2 crore. According to the new procedure, all such proposals for release of funds would have to be cleared by the Chief Minister, along with the status of financial resources available. This was done, and files were subsequently sent to the CM for his approval. The Chief Minister himself signed off on release of funds worth more than Rs 2 crore, and the file notes bear his signature.
The investigation ordered by the CM into the sanctions’ procedure is therefore an eyewash. Mr Joykumar, who is from the National People’s Party and a former Director General of Police, Manipur, has blamed the Chief Minister for the financial mess.
Mr Biswajit Singh, a senior BJP leader, on his part has pointed out that both the Power and Public Works departments spent considerably less than the amounts allocated to them in the budget. The PWD expenditure for 2018-19 was Rs 65,644 lakh, against a budgetary provision of Rs 1,06,853 lakh. The Manipur State Power Corporation Limited accounts for 2018-19 show savings of Rs 805 lakh. The state power distribution utility has seen a sharp reduction in its budget from Rs 414 crore in 2016-17 to Rs 255 crore in 2018-19. MSPDCL showed a savings of Rs 14 lakh from this amount in 2018-19.
The financial management of the Power and PWD departments in recent years therefore do not show any overt signs of mismanagement or financial indiscipline.
The CM also accused his minister of sanctioning large withdrawals while the election Model Code of Conduct for the recent Lok Sabha polls was in place. Mr Biswajit Singh has pointed out that the Model Code does not prohibit release of funds for continuing work on ongoing projects, and only prevents allocations for new projects. No new projects were sanctioned during this period, according to him.
The power struggle between the ministers is now a political matter, and 17 out of the 31 BJP MLAs in the house of 60 have expressed support for replacing Biren Singh as Chief Minister. Deputy CM Mr Joykumar of BJP ally NPP, which has four MLAs, has also faulted the CM for the present situation and declined to be in the ministry after his unceremonious removal. Mr Biren Singh, who was a Congress minister in the previous O.Ibobi Singh government until September 2016, and joined the BJP in October that year before going on to become Manipur’s BJP chief minister less than six months later, is seen as a Congressman in the BJP by several of his party colleagues.
The BJP won 21 seats out of 60 in the 2017 assembly polls, less that the 28 won by Congress, but managed to form the government with support from NPP, Naga People’s Front, a lone Lok Janshakti Party member, a Trinamool Congress defector, a Congress defector, and an independent MLA. It has since swelled with further defections from the Congress, which is now left with only 19 MLAs.
Should the numbers stay as they are, the only way Biren Singh can hold on to power is if he is able to engineer more defections from the Congress, thus effectively turning the Manipur BJP into a party of ex-Congressmen. However, even if this should prove possible, it is unlikely to go down well with the old hands in the BJP, because the defectors would have to be given something to defect, while those who have worked for the party loyally would get nothing for their loyalty.