The Nature Park at Kanglog in Shimla was the dream project, this is what the previous government had claimed while laying the foundation stone of this project back in March 2017 and while inaugurating it before completion in November in the same year. It was announced that the park would be one of its kind in Shimla and equipped with the latest technologies including water recycling for fountains, solar lights, car parking, rain shelter etc.
The cost of the project was said to be Rs. 5.10 crores. Then Chief Minister Virabhadra Singh, right before the elections to the State Legislative Assembly, inaugurated it in a hurry
The park is still not complete. However, after monsoon season in 2018, it was claimed that a major part of the park was washed away, which was declared as a natural disaster. The Shimla Municipal Corporation and the Forest Department claims to have spent a lot on it.
Now, an RTI reply from the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Shimla, Inder Kumar, are contradicting what was announced and what is being delivered. The application was filed by an RTI activist Brij Lal, who has highlighted several other alleged scams too. The activist had held a press conference recently in which he had explained his allegations. He also rubbished declaring the damage as a result of natural causes.
The project had faced criticism for several reasons, and being a site of biggest dumping ground in Shimla was one of it. The entire park was being developed on a dumping ground. There is a lot of dumped waste beneath it, which makes it prone to erosion and landslips. It’s a well-known fact that the nallah that starts from Jakhu and ends up in Nehra khud witness heavy rise in water flow during heavy rains.
Therefore, constructing a park in the middle of it despite being aware of the imminent threat cannot be called a natural disaster, the activist told media.
The site was earlier selected for construction of a parking lot for the crematory located right in front of it. During cremations, which are quite frequent, a large number of vehicles line up on roadside, causing traffic congestion. Moreover, the idea of creating a recreational park adjacent to a crematory and nallah that carried waste of the city was also questioned by the activist.
This is not it; citing some facts and statistics received through the reply to the application, the activist has termed it a scam of Rs. 5.10 crores.
Based on the official records, the activist has alleged that the amount sanctioned in the DPR was Rs. 4,36,38,800 while provided budget was much higher at Rs. 5.10 crores.
The activist labelled some serious allegations against officials of the concerned departments. Some approvals, which should have been obtained prior to starting construction work, were not taken. How the government implemented the project without these approvals, questions the activist.
The activist said that the total area shown in the DPR is less than what was announced. The DPR was prepared and passed for 2734.20 square meter area while the government had claimed that the park would be developed on an area of 20168 square meters. The area mentioned for program and components was 20696 square meter.
In another allegation, the activist said that the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds that were supposed to be spent only on plantation and forestation of the catchment area of rivers are being misused for this project.
The site of the park does not have any river in the vicinity. Moreover, the Forest Department is supposed to undertake plantation and forestation activity with the CAMPA funds, not constructing parks. The activist alleged it was a misuse of the CAMPA funds.
I have all the records that are obtained through a reply of the DFO to my RTI
, the activist said.
He further said that the government granted the project collectively to the Shimla Municipal Corporation and the State Forest Department. The executive committee of the Forest Department that included four IFS Officer and a private architect passed the project in a meeting held on April 17, 2017. He alleged that the non-technical staff performed a technical job, which is against rules.
The sanction of funds is also made by officials who are not authorized to do so for an amount exceeding Rs. 1 crore, the activist told THN.
The activist held the then Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, Forest Minister Thakur Singh Bharmauri, then Chief Secretary and a half a dozen other officials responsible for it.
The activist has alleged there is no clarity on how much area was required for the project as there was a stark difference of 25, 000 square meters in the area shown in DPR and the one announced by the Virbhadra Government.
Moreover, the activist has termed it a clear violation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
All the allegations that I have labelled in the case are true and are based on the official records provided by the DFO. Media can take official statements to confirm their authenticity,
Brij Lal said.
The park was not a dream project but an example of foolishness,
he said asking,
Who would construct a park in the middle of a nallah that carry city’s waste and on the top of a dumping ground where the Corporation was dumping waste for more than two decades.
The activist has demanded a probe along with an inquiry into the financial assets/properties owned by officials involved. In case, the government does not conduct a probe, the activist said he would approach the State High Court for justice.