Bhopal: On Friday, the Madhya Pradesh Economic Offences Wing (EOW) registered two preliminary enquiries for financial irregularities in the Rs 3,800 crore ‘Bundelkhand package’. It was allocated by the Manmohan Singh Government in 2009 to tackle drought in 6 districts of the Bundelkhand region in the state.
EOW Director General Sushovan Banerjee said the Sagar unit has taken suo moto cognisance of the irregularities in the Bundelkhand package and registered a complaint against officials, contractors and others from the forest engineering services department.
“This will be a multi-dimensional probe with cases against several government officers. Soon, the documents and evidences will be collected and an FIR is likely to be registered,” Banerjee said, adding that there would also be an investigation into why no case was registered by the erstwhile Bharatiya Janata Party government when there was a directive for registration of the case.
It is said that in 2009, it was then Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi who pushed for a package for the drought-ravaged Bundelkhand region worth Rs 7,266 crore. The intention was an eradication of a water crisis in 13 districts out of which six are in M.P. Chhatarpur (Rs 918 crore), Sagar (Rs 840 crore), Damoh (Rs 619 crore), Tikamgarh (Rs 503 crore), Panna (Rs 414 crore) and Datia (Rs 331crore) while the remaining seven are in Uttar Pradesh. The funds however, have been lost to corruption.
The scam would have gone unnoticed if Tikamgarh resident and RTI activist Pawan Ghuwara did not blow the whistle in 2012 after noticing a bizarre mismatch in vehicle numbers. The Centre sent a three-member probe team to Panna, and the scam was out in the open. Motorcycles, scooters, cars and jeeps were shown as JCB machines on paper by the Forest Department in Panna.
Hearing the petition of Ghuwara in 2014, the Jabalpur Bench of the High Court ordered a probe into the alleged siphoning of central funds from the special Bundelkhand package given to Madhya Pradesh.
“I met Rahul Gandhi and informed him. In 2019, Rahul Gandhi asked Kamal Nath ji to get this matter investigated and Digvijaya Singh had also raised the issue,” said Ghuwara, who is now a Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) state secretary.
Tonnes of Stone Carried on Scooter?
In the alleged corruption case — signed and stamped documents would have you believe that 5 tonnes of stone were transported on a scooter, and that hundreds of goats dropped dead in a span of two weeks across the region.
In 2015, the then Chief Secretary had asked the Chief Technical Examination Department to investigate the scam. The probe went on till 2017 and the report was sent to General Administration Department, which recommended action, but in vain.
Government Probe Reveals 350 Stop-Dams Missing
In Sagar, hundreds of goats allegedly given to farmers under the scheme ‘died’ within two weeks. “No one knows if those goats ever existed,” said Ghuwara. Sources say the EOW will begin its probe in Sagar. Inquiry by the state Government has found 350 missing stop-dams across six districts. Also missing are 1,000 out of 1,296 water tanks and potable drinking water facility (under Nal-Jal Yojana). “Funds were transferred to personal accounts by officers of the animal husbandry department,” Ghuwara alleged.
The probe team summoned Divisional Forest Officers (DFOs) of North and South Panna regions and other administrative officials, said sources. North Panna forest division had received Rs 12 crore between 2009 and 2011 under the Bundelkhand package for water conservation in forest areas, including construction of 82 ponds and 251 percolation tanks. According to the complainant, a section of forest and administrative officials entered into a criminal conspiracy and misappropriated a large portion of the money.
When Ghuwara tracked JCB excavators on the basis of registration numbers entered in official documents, he was shocked to find that in most cases these were numbers of scooters, cars and jeeps. Many did not even exist on Regional Transport Office (RTO) records, he said. In many cases payment had been made in cash rather than cheque.
Ghuwara moved the High Court with all the documents and a bench comprising then Chief Justice Ajay Khanwilkar and Justice Sanjay Yadav directed the Chief Secretary to conduct a probe and submit a report. Documents submitted by Ghuwara showed how vehicles with two-wheeler registration numbers were shown as having ferried hundreds of “truckloads” of construction material.
Key Findings of the Chief Technical Examination Department Probe Report
-84 dams constructed in Sagar district at a cost of Rs 40.17 crore. 85 constructed in Chhatarpur worth Rs 29.77 crore. 65 dams in Tikamgarh district with at cost of Rs 20.88 crore. While 53 dams were constructed in Damoh and 35 in Panna, 28 were constructed in Datia at a cost of Rs 18.55 crore, Rs 15.78 crore and Rs 11.98 crore respectively.
-The total cost of these dams was Rs 210 crore and it is claimed that around 70% of the work has been completed by using poor quality material. The basic design for the construction of dams has not been followed and contracts which violate norms have been agreed upon.
-The Forest Department used motorcycles and scooters to transport gravel and other construction material. At some places, a pond was dug and payment was made for two.
-In Panna district, random physical verification of nine watershed projects revealed massive corruption.
- 23 vehicles which were shown as tractors and JCB excavators were found to be motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws and cars.
- Five out of nine watersheds were never constructed though the amount was spent.
- Payments were made through vouchers to persons who had died years ago.
- Material procurement norms were violated.
- Payments for transportation were made without recording the registration of numbers of vehicles.
- In Tikamgarh, Damoh, Chhattarpur and Datia districts close to 60% of the amount was embezzled.