Resolution of Manipur financial crisis unlikely soon as internal power tussle puts Biren Singh at risk of losing CM post

The power tussle in Manipur has taken a turn for the worse, with Chief Minister N Biren Singh on Thursday taking over the key departments of finance and public works and power, and rushing to the National Capital on Friday to defend himself against a leadership challenge.

Singh took over the two ministries on Thursday after his cabinet authorised him the previous night to “take all necessary disciplinary actions”, in an emergency meeting called after the Reserve Bank of India placed a temporary punitive ban on all withdrawals by the state.

The RBI was punishing the government for its overdraft of Rs 247.48 crore.

Chief Minister N Biren Singh, while taking over finance from deputy chief minister N Joykumar Singh of NPP (a coalition partner in the BJP-led government) and the plum department of public works and power from the BJP’s own rebellious minister Th. Biswajit Singh, accused the ministers of violating financial discipline – a charge that both the men have denied.

 Resolution of Manipur financial crisis unlikely soon as internal power tussle puts Biren Singh at risk of losing CM post

File picture of Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh. PTI

Interestingly, Th Biswajit Singh is currently spearheading a campaign to dislodge N Biren Singh from the chief minister’s post. Seventeen of BJP’s 21 MLAs in Manipur Assembly are reported to have submitted a memorandum to the prime minister and the Union home minister and party president, Amit Shah, that Biren Singh be removed as chief minister.

Rumours have it that Deputy Chief Minister N Joykumar Singh is soon to be dropped from Biren Singh’s 30-month-old ministry, which is due for a reshuffle.

The cabinet in a late night emergency meeting on Wednesday authorised Biren Singh “to take all necessary disciplinary actions to imbibe a culture of financial prudence and propriety in key state government departments”. The meeting was summoned in the wake of RBI action against the state for having overdrawn in excess of arrangements agreed upon with the apex bank.

Manipur government had overspent Rs 247.48 crore, exceeding 36 days in a quarter as per the scheme of ‘Ways and Means Advances’ for 2019-20.

Financial pundits observed that the government employees will be the first to bear the brunt of the financial crisis. However, N Biren Singh assured that timely disbursement of salaries and benefits of employees will not be affected by the financial crisis. He reiterated that his government is committed to bringing in financial discipline. However, as a precautionary measure, he has halted all recruitment process currently undertaken by any department with immediate effect from Wednesday.

The chief minister's secretariat subsequently issued a release saying that huge amounts of money were withdrawn by the public works and power department during the period of March to May, 2019 while the model code of conduct was in force.

The statement said a three-member committee comprising principal secretary V Vumlunmang, commissioner-cum-secretary and OSD to the chief Minister Nidhi Kesarwani, and deputy secretary W Ajit Singh would examine the withdrawals under question as well as all other departments as part of the investigation.

Y Joykumar Singh has meanwhile struck back with a statement of his own.

He said he had participated in the emergency cabinet meeting and it had neither approved nor discussed the agenda of removing ministers from portfolios, and laid the blame for the financial mess at the doors of the chief minister.

“On January 8, 2018, the chief minister insisted that any encashment or cheque withdrawal authority exceeding Rs 2 crore should be authorised by the chief minister himself. Since the total overdraft amount is Rs 274.48 crore, this kind of transaction cannot be incurred without the chief minister's authorisation. Therefore, if anyone is to be blamed, it has to be the CM,” the deputy chief minister, who was stripped off the finance ministry, said.

Joykumar blamed the finance commissioner and the principal secretary as well, saying the bureaucrats neglected his instruction to appraise him and the chief minister of the financial balance position sent by RBI on a daily basis. He said he would discuss his demotion from the finance ministry with his party’s leadership.

Th. Biswajit Singh claimed that charges of excessive withdrawal were baseless. “Past successive state government have experienced overdraft. What is peculiar is that this time the issue has been blown out of proportion,” he claimed.

On the issue of withdrawal while election code of conduct was still in force, Bishwajit said, “There is no hard and fast rule that no transaction can be done during the model code of conduct.” He asserted that the transaction was for “on-going works”.

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2019 22:06:22 IST