Carmona panchayat functions from school as tug of war over unpaid bills continues


 She sits on a weak chair and uses a half-broken table to sign documents — NOCs, construction files and other development work files related to the coastal village of Carmona and in the backdrop are stored old and broken furniture and a load of other material.
She is the sarpanch of the seven-member panchayat representing over 6000 residents of the village of Carmona, Ms Lavita T Dias.
The only thing that keep the scrap material from falling on the sarpanch is a barricade of steel cupboards that stand between the two. The panchayat is presently compelled to function from a government primary school building at Carmona.
When the idea was first mooted to built a new panchayat ghar for the village, the grandson of Carmona and then minister for rural development agency (RDA) and also the PWD, Mr Churchill Alemao, promised the villagers of Carmona a new panchayat ghar, as their small single-room panchayat was not sufficient to handle all the works.
The idea was accepted by the then panchayat body and a resolution was adopted on September 16, 2009 proposing a new panchayat ghar which was to be completed within 12 months (by end of 2010). Mr Alemao assured to build the structure with a first floor, utilizing RDA funds of about ` 32 lakh.
Work commenced, villagers and the then sarpanch, Mr Eustaquo D’Costa and other elected members were happy to see that their dream taking shape. After paying the first installment to the contractor from the Rural Development Agency (RDA) funds, the structure was completed in 2011. Sadly, it was not allowed to be occupied or used for the purpose it was constructed for.
“The contractor claims that the RDA owes him ` 10 lakh over the construction of the new panchayat ghar. He says that he has spent his own money and until the government pays him, he will not hand over the keys to the panchayat members. On the other hand, the RDA says that it has no funds to clear his bills. We are helplessly sandwiched between the two,” explained the sarpanch, Ms Dias and the deputy sarpanch, Mr Orlando R D’Silva.
Soon after the panchayat election and the change in guard in 2012, the new panel wrote to the Panchayat Minister, the RDA Minister and even to the Chief Minister, Mr Manohar Parrikar,  besides personally explaining the problem to the authorities concerned through the local MLA, Mr Caitano D’Silva, they added.
They said that on a couple of occasions, the Chief Minister replied to them saying that he is conducting an inquiry into the matter as he has doubts of irregularities in it as RDA cannot spend more than ` 12 lakh for construction of panchayat ghars.
“We were also told that a lot of funds were disproportionately  exhausted  in the Navelim constituency and that there are no funds to clear the pending bills now. Nonetheless, the local MLA, Mr Caitano D’Silva, has promised to urge the Chief Minister to clear the bill before May 2013, so that we can move in at least before the onset of monsoon,” added the deputy  sarpanch.
They revealed how the villagers even suggested to make use of the panchayat funds to pay the contractor, to solve the problem, but could not do so as the legal adviser expressed fear of the amount not getting reimbursed 
Interestingly, the one room government primary school turned panchayat office is also shared with the talathi, who functions from here. Seated at the entrance, the talathi welcomes the visitors, who often mistake him to be the panchayat secretary.
“I requested the Chief Minister, to clear the bills so that we can occupy the new building before the monsoon and get relief from the leaking roof here. We have no objection if he carries on his investigation to find out how such a big amount was sanctioned for the project. If the government does not consider our request of permitting us to move into our new office by end of May, 2013, then we will shift the panchayat office onto the road from May 2013 in protest,” fumed the deputy sarpanch.  [NT]