GUWAHATI, Feb 7 � The Gauhati High Court has issued notice to the State Government and the Forest Department while admitting a PIL filed by an NGO over alleged swindling of huge sums of money by the Forest Department under the National Bamboo Mission.
The notice is returnable on February 28.
Aranya Suraksha Samiti, Assam, the NGO which moved the court over the alleged large-scale anomalies, stated in its PIL that upon physical verification of the progress (as obtained through application of the RTI) said to have been made under the National Bamboo Mission in a number of districts of the State, the ground situation was found to be one of total contrast, with absolutely no plantation or afforestation work in most of the districts.
Citing some instances, the NGO said that while only a few branches of bamboo existed in the verified 200 hectares of land in Sonitpur district with Rs 25 lakh shown to have been spent on that, in several other districts including Nagaon, Dibrugarh, Kamrup, etc., absolutely no bamboo plantation or afforestation was done.
�The plantation or afforesttaion exists only in paper, and the money has been embezzled in a most illegal and corrupt manner without executing any work," the NGO said, adding that similar were the results following verification of claims about construction of community halls, public amenities, roads, etc., under the mission as those were found to be non-existent.
There were even anomalies and contradictory statements coming from different forest authorities in reply to the queries, the NGO mentioned in the PIL.
Moreover, members of various joint forest management committees (JFMCs) were found to be unaware of many of the works done in paper, saying that they had not seen any such development.
In what should indicate the government machinery's apathy towards the RTI Act, the NGO stated that out of 27 districts of Assam, conservators (of forests) of just ten districts have furnished the details of the National Bamboo Mission that was being executed by various forest development agencies (FDAs) in the State.
�The other conservators of various districts have either neglected or furnished incomplete information or did not reply�a few conservators and public information officers even demanded huge amounts of money to photostat the relevant copies," it said.
Terming the financial anomalies as the tip of the iceberg, the NGO called for a CBI inquiry into the entire episode, saying that "ninety per cent of the embezzlement, misappropriation of fund by the respondent authorities in exercising their power and by misusing their positions public officers of the State are yet to be disclosed before the general public.�