A junior officer in the Delhi Forest Department has been entrusted with the responsibility of spending Rs. 25 lakh to feed about 16,000 monkeys at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary every month.
This is a clear violation of store purchase rules that specify that tenders, which ensure the contract goes to the lowest bidder to optimise use of taxpayers’ money, should be floated for all such expenditure. Without tenders, it’s impossible to justify why the contract went to a particular firm or individual.
“Instead of forming a committee… to look after procurement, distribution, quantity and composition of food, the department has left everything to a deputy range officer. No review has ever been done,” says a July 2013 report of the Delhi audit department. It refers to details from a period between 2008 and 2010.
The department has not reviewed the deputy range officer’s decisions on how much feed to procure and from whom even once.
The food bill for the monkeys lodged in the sanctuary was Rs. 1 crore in 2008-2009. It’s risen to Rs. 3 crore per year now, an increase of 200%. “If the [forest] department had made efforts, the burden on the expenditure could have been reduced,” the audit notes.
After a High Court order, the forest department in 2007 started capturing monkeys found in residential areas and releasing them in the Asola sanctuary. This was triggered by an incident in 1997 in which Delhi’s deputy mayor SS Bajwa died after he fell from the terrace of his house after monkeys attacked him.
At the time, the court suggested that the forest department feed the monkeys. To offset some of the expense, it suggested that civic agencies collect food offered as religious offerings and send it to the sanctuary. The forest department was also directed to plant fruit-bearing trees that would enable the monkeys to fend for themselves in a few years.
But the forest department seems to have ignored these suggestions that would have helped it save money in the long run. “Civic agencies did not collect food from temples, but the forest department ignored this. The department did not tell the audit as to how many saplings of fruit-bearing plants it has planted,” the report says.
In response to an RTI application, the forest department claims it feeds the monkeys with bananas, cucumber and black gram bought from reputed suppliers at rates approved of by an agricultural produce market committee. It admits it never invited tenders for supply of the feed.
It also admits: “No water ponds, reservoirs have been created for providing drinking water to monkeys.”