Forests

Chhattisgarh forest department expense avoidable: CAG

The department’s actions caused an excess expenditure of Rs 2.03 crore in the year 2014-15, says auditor

 
By Ishan Kukreti
Last Updated: Monday 04 February 2019
Forests
Representational photo. Credit: Getty Images Representational photo. Credit: Getty Images

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s (CAG) Report No.4 of 2018 on the Revenue Sector, Government of Chhattisgarh dated January 10, 2019, found that the Chhattisgarh forest department incurred excess and avoidable expenditure on unirrigated mixed plantations set up under the State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (State CAMPA) in 2014-2015.

This was found in four forest divisions of Chhattisgarh namely Balodabazar, Balrampur, Jashpur and Korba.

The audit compared the Chhattisgarh forest department’s norms of site preparation — work like site cleaning, pit digging, fencing work etc. carried out in advance to plantation work — with the norms under State CAMPA.  

The audit found that under departmental norms, the pit size prescribed for plantation of 1,100 plants per hectare was 45 centimetre (cm) x 45 cm x 45 cm as against the size of 30 cm x 30 cm x 30 cm under State CAMPA. Out of plantation of 14,24,711 plants in 1,295.192 hectares under departmental norms, 10,64,668 plants were of other species for which pit digging of 30 cm x 30 cm x 30 cm was prescribed in the departmental Working Plan while for the remaining 3,60,043 plants, the pit size prescribed was 45 cm x 45 cm x 45 cm.

“The Department, instead of carrying out the work of 10,64,668 plants (other species) by digging pits of 30 cm x 30 cm x 30 cm size, carried out the work by digging pits of bigger size. As a result, the labour charges under departmental plantation and the consumption of vermin-compost/fertilisers exceeded by more than three times, resulting in excess expenditure of Rs 2.03 crore in the work of site preparation for unirrigated mixed plantation under departmental head in the year 2014-15,” the audit report notes.

The report also says that the concerned Divisional Forest Officers replied between May 2016 and August 2016 that the norms for unirrigated mixed plantations under departmental heads were fixed by the higher authorities and the work was executed as per the norms and the project report approved by the Department.

Under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act, 2016, whenever forest land is diverted for non-forest activity like infrastructure, mining, industry etc, compensatory afforestation has to be undertaken to maintain the forest cover. If carried on degraded forest land, the compensatory afforestation has to be twice the area of forest land diverted and if the land on which compensatory afforestation is done is revenue land, then the same area of land has to be brought under plantation.  

The CAF Act has been at the centre of controversy since the beginning. It failed to ensure former environment minister, Anil Madhav Dave's promise made in  Parliament that the act will ensure Gram Sabhas will be consulted before taking up plantation work.

In fact, after the bill was passed, a senior Ministry of Environment, Forest, Climate Change (MoEFCC) had told Down to Earth about the irrelevance of consulting communities. “The area where land gets diverted are consulted and given dues, what is the need to ask the Gram Sabha where the plantation is going to take place? It is government’s land after all,” a highly placed official had said.

"A pattern, majorly featured in the 2013 Comptroller and Auditor General of India are 'ghost plantations.' Such plantations—where records show money was spent but satellite imagery reveals no work whatsoever—were common across states like in Matiyadand Plantation in Chattisgarh,"  says Sanghamitra Dubey of Community Forest Rights-Learning and Advocacy (CFR-LA), an advocacy group working on creating awareness about the Forest Rights Act.   

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