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14 days on, PAO ‘controversy’ fails to die down

Demanding deferment of pay and accounts office (PAO) system till their pending liabilities are cleared, the contractors in Srinagar continued their protest demonstrations on the 14 day today while the engineering complex at Rajbagh continued to remain padlocked.
The protestors under the banner of J&K contractors coordination committee intensified their protests on Monday as they claimed that despite directions in this behalf issued by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, authorities have not issued formal order to “relax rules for clearing their pending dues and ongoing projects.”
The protesting contractors are demanding clearance of their pending bills or deferment of PAO system till clearance of their pending bills.
As a mark of protest, the contractors across the state have also brought all developmental projects standstill.
They began protest demonstrations on 27 February 2018 after padlocking the main gate of engineering complex at Rajbagh. The chief of three important departments comprising roads and builds, public health engineering and irrigation and flood control function from this complex.
For past fourteen days, the offices in this complex have remained closed as no top official or staffer came to attend the duties knowing that the main gate has been padlocked by the protestors who are camping in engineering complex premises to register the protests.
Under the new billing system, as per contractors, payment would be issued only to those whose executed projects fulfill the “criteria set by the government.”
Chairman, JKCCC, Ghulam Jeelani Purza said that under PAO, the former administrative approval for execution of any work is must. “But the system should be made applicable retrospective. Soon after 2014 devastating floods, authorities literally begged before contractors to execute various projects in an order to restore connectivity and renovate and repair project of public importance. There was no former administrative approval for those works as all that was done on war footing,” Purza said.
He rued that apart from bills to the tune of Rs 1,024 crore for the works done immediately after devastating 2014 flood, the departments have not paid contractors even for the works done in 2015 and onwards, amounting a liability around Rs 200 crore.
He added that contractors have no objection in implementation of PAO system. “However, if the system is implemented before clearance of pending liabilities, it will be difficult for authorities to clear our dues under this system. We are telling them to clear our bills today and implement PAO next day,” he said.
“We called on the Chief Minister few days and apprised her about our grievance and demand. She gave us patient hearing and issued directions to finance department to make necessary changes (amendment for relaxation) so that contractors don’t face any problems in receiving pending bills,” he said, adding, “however, the authorities are yet to issue any formal order in this regard.”
He added that presently PAO system for online bill payments lacked the required infrastructure as not a single case had been cleared in past three weeks in absence of infrastructure.
He alleged that authorities have implemented PAO in PHE, I&FC and R&B departments from 15 February 2018 while the same would be implemented in other departments after 31 March 2018.
Muhammad Yaseen, another contractor said that PAO introduced by the state government at the end of ongoing financial year is “not logical”.
He alleged that introduction of PAO system has further complicated matters and slowed process of payments and asked government to delay it until next financial year.
He said during 2015, Rs 700 crore worth works were undertaken out of which almost Rs 500 crore was released. However, for works done in 2017 amounting to an estimated Rs 535 crore, only Rs 110 crore have been released, he said.

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