After taking a serious view of irregularities in plantation projects, the union ministry of environment and forests has started looking into “fraudulent withdrawal” of funds meant for income generation activities of weaker sections in Jhajjar district of Haryana under a programme funded by a foreign agency.
The funds, granted under the Integrated Natural Resource Management and Poverty Alleviation project funded by Japanese Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC), are allegedly fraudulently withdrawn from the accounts of women self help groups, which were to undertake income generation activities, in several villages of the district between 2007-08 and 2009-10. JBIC is known as Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) now.
The ministry has sought a report from the state forest department on the fund misuse meant for the weaker sections under the integrated poverty alleviation programme. Complaints had been received in the JICA-assisted project, especially in Jhajjar and Hisar districts, and reported fraudulent withdrawals from the accounts of SHGs and sent to the state authorities for a factual report, Arun K. Bansal, additional director general of forests, MoEF, wrote to chief secretary Urvashi Gulati in February this year.
When there was no response from the state authorities, another letter was sent to the forests department on April 18, 2011, for seeking the report. MOEF had intervened after it received a complaint in November 2010 regarding alleged large scale fraudulent withdrawal of funds from the accounts of SHG meant for their income generation activities. These illegal withdrawals were carried out mostly in Jhajjar and Matanhel ranges of Jhajjar Forest Division, the complainant charged, naming several villages of the area.
Under the programme, village-level forest committees were given funds to provide financial assistance to self help groups of needy women for undertaking income generation activities. When contacted, forests and environment minister Capt Ajay Singh Yadav denied having any information. A senior forest department officer, however, claimed that there was no serious irregularity in fund utilization in the poverty alleviation programme and an official had been asked to examine the matter in detail.
The project, which was started in 2004 with 800 villages in 17 districts, came to an end in March this year. Earlier, financial irregularities were also detected in the centrally-sponsored plantation project in the district, with payments made in the name of non-existent plantation.