IMF experienced Finance Secretary of J&K wakes up from deep slumber, yet to be asked questions about Reliance Insurance bungle

Syed Junaid Hashmi

JAMMU, Nov 22: Finance Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Naveen Choudhary seems to have woken-up from deep slumber within months of Satyapal Malik’s taking over as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. He has begun working overtime is what officials in his office say.

Naveen, who spent three years (10/2008 to 10/2011) in the Economic Affairs department of  International Monetary Fund (IMF), returned to Jammu and Kashmir in February 2012 and was posted as Principal Secretary to the then Governor N.N.Vohra, when he actually wished being posted as Finance Secretary of then NC-Congress coalition government.

But the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah preferred keeping ex-Chief Secretary and current, Advisor to the Governor Bharat Bhushan Vyas as the head of the Finance Department. Vyas was also a trusted lieutenant of the then Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather. When the BJP-PDP government took over, ex-Finance Minister Dr. Haseeb Drabu preferred not to replace Vyas. So, Naveen was handed over the Finance department in May 2015 after late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed took over.

Since then, he has been Finance Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir. He has been heading the finance department since the last more than 42 months. And it took him 42 months to issue an order directing administrative secretaries to show urgency in designating Project Implementing Agencies (PIAs). What makes this interesting is the fact that Governor’s council failed to seek an explanation from him for the recent Reliance Insurance bungle?

It needs to be reminded here that it was Choudhary who on December 4, 2014 had constituted a three member committee headed by the then Director Codes Mohammed Rafi Andrabi for designing a group Mediclaim Insurance Policy for all the state government employees including employees of PSUs, Autonomous Bodies, Local Bodies, Universities, Pensioners and their dependent family members with Trinity Reinsurance Brokers Limited. But when the bungle took place, Choudhary was not even asked some basic questions for the reasons best known to mercurial Raj Bhawan.

While this is yet to be probed, Choudhary recently dashed off an order to all the administrative secretaries to urgently designate PIAs (Project Implementing Agencies) in their respective Departments to facilitate transfer of funds for completion of languishing projects approved by High-Powered Committee. The order stated that designation of PIAs was meant for streamlining process of financing and ensure timely completion of languishing projects approved by HPC for funding through Jammu and Kashmir Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (JKIDFC).

According to this order, each designated PIA has been to open an escrow account in J&K Bank Moving Secretariat Branch on immediate basis and the Director Finance/FA&CAO of the concerned Department, Executive Director/Director Finance of JKIDFC and the concerned Bank branch shall execute a tripartite agreement for operationalization of the escrow account.

The whole exercise has to be completed by each Administrative Department within a period of 15 days with intimation to the Finance Department. Director Finance/FA&CAO of the concerned Administrative Departments has been directed to strictly ensure that payments are credited to the account of the contractor/implementing agency/vendor/claimant as the case may be directly through DBT, it said adding that it shall be the responsibility of the concerned Administrative Department to formulate a mechanism for submission of the claims to the Director Finance/FA&CAO concerned for settlement of payment through the designated mechanism in a time bound manner.

All the concerned administrative Secretaries have been requested to designate PIAs, open an escrow account and formulate a broad-based mechanism for DBT and timely transfer of funds on real time basis to meet the objectives of completion of languishing projects. Further, any amount transferred to each escrow account against any claim shall be settled through DBT within 48 hrs of its transfer from JKIDFC.

The order strictly states that cognizant delay by any Director Finance/FA&CAO would invite penalty to the extent of interest accrued for the delayed payment for which Administrative Department concerned shall be responsible while adding that to avoid any such situation a coordinated framework shall be adopted by the departments under the overall supervision of Administrative Secretary involving Director Finance/FA&CAO, PIA and other implementing agencies.

Before incurring expenditure over any languishing project out of funds provided through JKIDFC, every Administrative Secretary is requested to ensure completion of the basic requisite formalities and issue a certificate accompanying each payment request. Each Administrative Secretary shall have to give a certificate to ensure sanction of Administrative Approval accorded to the original/revised project cost of each such project, to certify that the remaining part of the languishing project is not being funded through any other source of funding, that there is no land acquisition issue involved for the execution of the work, that all the necessary clearances pertaining to Forest and Environment have been obtained from the concerned quarters, wherever required, that original copy of DPR along with Technical Sanction and Cost benefit ratio has been vetted by the competent authority.

Administrative Secretaries shall also certify latitude and longitude coordinates of each location of the project and ensure geo-tagging of all the languishing projects completed under this dispensation. They will also ensure uploading of photographs before initiation and after completion of the work funded under this dispensation and submit project completion certificate duly signed by the head of the PIA and countersigned by the Administrative Secretary.

Pertinently, the Government has constituted a High-Powered Committee (HPC) headed by the Principal Secretary Finance for approval of languishing projects for funding through JKIDFC. The High-Powered Committee has in its four meetings convened till date approved 1296 languishing projects in various important sectors involving a cumulative investment of Rs 2720.87 crore.