Dec 28, 2022, 10:55 pm
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has found alleged “irregularities” worth crores, including unauthorised expenditure and non-utilization of funds, in the implementation of the schemes for forest conservation and tree plantation in Punjab.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has found alleged “irregularities” worth crores, including unauthorised expenditure and non-utilization of funds, in the implementation of the schemes for forest conservation and tree plantation in Punjab.
The Principal Accountant General (Accounts and Entitlements), in its annual review of the working of forest divisions for 2021-22, pointed out that non-utilization of funds totaling ₹ 27.60 crore allocated by the forest department to the Punjab
State Forest Development Corporation Limited for the purchase of land for compulsory afforestation in the state. “Non-utilization of the available funds for purchase of land for compulsory afforestation has defeated the very purpose of creation of the fund…the process of plantation on the land is also very slow,” according to the report.
The PAG (A&E) said that during the years 2011-13, the corporation purchased 123 acres of land for compulsory afforestation and the mutation was done in the name of the forest department. The company could not purchase any land for the next seven years and 67 acres of land was purchased in 2019-20, but the plantation on this land was yet to be started. During the year 2020-21, 87 acres of land worth ₹ 14 crore was purchased, thereby leaving a balance of ₹ 27.60 crore unspent as on March 2021, it said.
The Punjab government framed a policy in 2010 for purchasing non-forest land for compensatory plantation through the corporation, which was allowed to charge 15% of the total cost for rendering the service. The funds for the purchase of non-forest land are collected by divisional forest officers from user agencies and given to the company.
In July 2021, the department issued a comprehensive policy with the provision that PSFDCL will purchase land for compensatory afforestation to the extent of using 80% of the fund available at the start of the financial year. The department has been asked by PAG (A&E) to intimate the reasons for not utilizing the funds, besides the action proposed to ensure its utilization in accordance with the government policy.
The report has also flagged unauthorized expenditure out of funds allocated under the Punjab Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (PUNCAMPA). “During a test check of records of the office of the conservator of forest (Wild Life) park and protected areas circle, Mohali, it was noticed that amounts of ₹ 24 lakh, ₹ 25 lakh, and ₹ 3.45 lakh were allotted under PUNCAMPA during years 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21, respectively. Out of which ₹ 23.99 lakh, ₹ 24.77 lakh and ₹ 2.10 lakh were spent on telephone bills, POL, electricity and vehicle repairs which are not allowed to be incurred from PUNCAMPA funds as per rules,” it said. These funds can only be utilized for the protection of plantations, artificial generation, and establishment and maintenance of animal rescue centres, modern nurseries, and forest paths.
The review report pointed out non-utilisation of funds under the agro-forestry scheme, non-release of state share for assistance for conservation and management of wetlands, and huge outstanding from contractors against the sale of standing trees and supply of timber.