RTI Activist Alleges High-Rank Forest Officials of 2.67 Crore Scam

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Shimla-The working of the Forest Department of Himachal Pradesh has always been in question. The mysterious death of forest guard Hoshiar Singh in Karsog area had thrown apt light on it. Now, an RTI activist has highlighted an alleged scam worth 2.67 crores in the construction of the building for the Interpretation Centre at Nagrota Surian under the Pong Dam Wild Life Century. The activist has made several shocking revelations and has alleged involvement of high-rank officials of the Forest Department along with subordinates in this alleged scam.

Brij Lal, who is also the state in-charge of Shiv Sena, obtained a copy of the report of a committee constituted by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Wildlife (PCCFW) in May 2019. This committee was formed to review the irregularities in the construction of the said building and deviations in following set procedures. This building was found to be unsafe due to the use of sub-standard materials and for not involving any civil and electrical engineer. No soil testing was done to check the load-bearing capacity of the land. The activist said, this building, if approved for use, could lead to a major mishap, leading to loss of lives and property.

As per the report, an estimated amount of Rs 2,66, 82,000 was prepared during the 2015-16 session for the construction of this facility. In July 2015, Rs 47,27, 96 were sanctioned to initiate the construction work. The tender was allotted to a contractor named Tushar Goel. However, instead of the amount sanction by the government, Rs 1.61 crores were released to the contractor without any approval from the government, the activist alleged. Brija Lal asked from where did all this money come from if it was not sanctioned by the government.

Further, the contractor deviated from approved design and estimated expenditure value. The spot inspection by the committee that comprised of SS Negi, Junior Engineer and Milap Bhandari, Head Draftsman as technical members, was conducted in the month of May, 21019.

The final report given by the committee revealed that deviations were found in the approved design, technical specifications and procurement procedure apart from deviations in quantity and expenditure.

It was found that no soil testing for load-bearing capacity was undertaken and no samples of concrete were taken for testing so that the strength of the five-storey building could be ensured. The contactor also used sub-standard material in the construction. The report said that “M15 concrete mix” was used in place of “M20” that was approved for the design. Therefore, the stability of the structure was in question.

Further, electrical installation work was executed without any kind of technical approval of competent authority and supervision of an electrical engineer defined in the procedure.

Deviations were also found in the plinth area, substitution of items, building design, roof etc., for which no approval was taken from the competent authority. The DFO Hamirpur could not provide any proper proforma and justification in regard to these deviations.

As another shocking revelation, it was pointed out in the report that the job of supervision of the construction work for this five-storey building worth 2.67 crores was entrusted on a Forest Guard, a Deputy Ranger, a Range Officer. None of these was qualified or competent to supervise this work as their qualification did not exceed matriculation and 10+2. These personals were not familiar with know-how of such a large-scale civil work. Even, the measurement books were maintained without any mention of dates, signatures or reports of testing.

No engineer was engaged at any stage of construction as there were no signatures of any such technical person on the initial estimate. Non-involvement of an engineer was sighted as the primary reason for above-mentioned deviations.

Further, there were over estimations and excess charges for works in brick masonry roof area etc, which are shown in the bills but were not found on the spot during the inspection by the committee. The total amount in this regard stood at Rs 43,45, 293.  

The activist said that this report was submitted to the PCCF Wildlife on June 14, 2019, however, no FIR was registered or action was taken against any of the involved officials.

The activist has alleged that the PCCF Wildlife and DFO Hamirpur wildlife unlawfully sanctioned 2.67 crores to the contractor, thus, are involved in the scam.

The activist wrote to Chief Minister Jairam Thakur that FIR should be registered against all involved personals and Rs. 2.67 spent on this unsafe building should be recovered from them. Also, the building should be demolished as it is not safe for use, the activist said.

Further, the activist has warned the state government that if no action was taken, then the matter would be taken to the State High Court with the said report.