As reported by Dharmendra Rataul in on 24 January 2008:
Law of jungle in kandi forests

Law of jungle in kandi forests

Amritsar, January 23 Glaring shortcoming in plantation drives, cutting of trees and dubious financial transactions to the tune of crores have surfaced in various forest ranges in kandi areas of Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur districts. For the past four years, public funds are being pilfered, precious khair trees being felled and money that came under Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) misused.

These are the preliminary findings of the ongoing departmental probe into bungling in forest management. The probe was ordered by Forest Minister Tikshan Sud three months ago following numerous complaints by officials, including Chief Parliamentary Secretary Des Raj Dhugga.

A labourer-turned-contractor Alfudeen had submitted an affidavit, stating how cheques issued to him for various forest management works were pocketed by the officials.

Alfudeen, who lives on a small farm near Mahngowal village and is barely able to make ends meet, has transactions worth lakhs made in his name. “The cheques were issued in my name and the officials would get cash from me in return. I was receiving cheques for the works that were never done,” he said in his statement before the inquiry panel, headed by senior forest officials from the state headquarters.

Irregularities in funds’ management came to light after former honourary wildlife warden Gunraj Singh Saini had last year sought information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Thousands of pages of information related to financial transactions by the Forest Department points to pilferage of funds during the previous Congress regime. Notably, former divisional forest officer RR Kakkar, during whose tenure the bungling took place, has already been suspended in another case relating to the plantation drive.

Kakkar, who is already under the scanner for a controversial MoU he signed with an NGO, Sahyogi, headed by his wife Renu Kakkar, may face more trouble now.

Alfudeen has also said in his statement that Kakkar and other divisional forest officers came to his house on the night of April 6, 2006, and asked him to plant a dead sambhar at the farm of Saini to teach him lesson for acting against him in various cases of bungling.

Kakkar, who was posted as Ludhiana DFO last year, is also facing probes into scandals related to plantations and aforestation. After surveying the area and collecting evidence, The Indian Express had found that permits to fell trees were issued in violation of the law.

As per rules, permits for tree felling could be issued only during winter months— January and February. “The records available showed that permits were issued in March. This is illegal,” said Gunraj.

Honourary Wildlife Warden, Hoshiarpur, Sukhdeep Singh Bajwa, who is already pursuing a case against the department for illegal felling of trees and misuse of funds, said they have written to senior authorities of the department for a high-level probe.

Confirming Alfudeen’s statement, Bajwa said money spent on trivial works, including laying of path for tractors, tightening of non-existent barbed wire and construction of pillars needs to be probed.

“It seems that the Forest Department has no accountability. The public money is being misused and senior authorities are sitting silently,” he alleged.

He added that despite spending Rs 400 crore under the JBIC project, the forest cover had actually dwindled.

Forest Minister Tikshan Sud said the probe was on and no one would be spared. He said he would submit the inquiry report to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal shortly.

Kakkar said no misuse of funds took place during his tenure as the DFO. He added false complaints were being filed as part of a conspiracy against him and there was no truth in the allegations.

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