New Delhi, April 29: An arm of the Union environment ministry appears to have allowed many non-government, charity and voluntary organisations to siphon off public funds in the guise of expanding forests, a parliamentary panel has said.
In a report tabled in Parliament on Friday, the Public Accounts Committee has observed that among 560 projects sanctioned by the National Afforestation and Ecodevelopment Board (NAEB) to voluntary agencies over a five-year period, only 20 have been actually completed.
“The committee (is) shocked that public money was looted in the name of afforestation and little tangible effort was made by the government to book the defaulters,” the committee chaired by the BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi has noted.
The NAEB had sanctioned 560 projects to non-government organisations and non-profit and registered societies and 87 projects to state forest departments to support tree planting and forest development activities. The NAEB had released Rs 47 crore under the Green India programme between 2003 and 2009.
The committee noted that in 352 projects, the non-government organisations took away the first instalment of the funding and neither came back for the subsequent instalments, nor explained what they did with the released funds.
In 185 projects, the non-government organisations took away two instalments, and the NAEB did not receive either evaluation reports or utilisation certificates or relevant documents from the state governments.
“Apparently, grants were released to bogus voluntary agencies and the (environment) ministry has admitted that they vanished without a trace,” the committee observed in its report.
The NAEB failed to ensure recovery of funds from these voluntary agencies and it did not initiate any action against them, according to the committee. Among the 87 projects given to state forest departments, only 23 per cent were completed.
Overall, more than 93 per cent of the projects did not achieve their objectives.
The committee has now asked the environment ministry to seek assistance from the banks through whom the funds were routed and track down the identity and the office bearers of the voluntary agencies and beneficiaries of the grants “so that the culprits can be brought to justice.”
It has given the ministry three months to furnish a list of all the unscrupulous voluntary agencies “who defrauded the public exchequer” and certify how much area was afforested by them against the target. The committee said other government departments should be alerted about the bogus voluntary agencies so that they are debarred from future government grants.
In its response, the ministry has said it has blacklisted seven voluntary agencies and action has been initiated against “one erring officer.”