An audit of the Delhi forest department has revealed that its decision to allow arbitrary cutting of trees and wasteful expenditures has led to a massive green deficit and a loss of Rs. 6 crore to the exchequer.
The report by Delhi’s audit department also indicts the forest department for non-utlisation of funds meant to rejuvenate the fast-depleting Ridge, known as Delhi’s lungs.
The report said money had been spent mainly on salaries, travel vehicles and furniture, but nothing was spent to create awareness on the Ridge, train staff or strengthen the wildlife section. Payments were made to buy laptops and computers but the same were not collected even as the warranty period got over, the report said.
The audit also revealed that the department failed to keep records of felled trees or afforestation and said that the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994 was rendered a failure “because of non-maintenance of records and lack of monitoring. But for the irregularities, Delhi would have gained environmentally”.
Head of Delhi’s forest department GN Sinha said, “We are preparing our response to the audit department. It is our continuous endeavour to learn from their observations and improve our working. If there are irregularities, we would set them right.”
The audit also indicts the department of not maintaining records on survival of saplings planted after cutting of trees. Nor is there any strategy to increase the survival rate, the audit said.
“The department failed to impose monitory penalty worth lakhs of rupees on agencies which cut thousands of trees for infrastructure projects but did not plant saplings in the ratio of 1:10 within the prescribed timeframe of two years,” the report says.
“In some cases, the department did not even obtain the mandatory security deposit from these agencies before allowing cutting of trees. There is acute shortfall in terms of compensatory plantation and no attention to this deficiency has been paid since 2002-03.”
As per provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, a wildife advisory board has to be constituted for setting up sanctuaries and parks and their protection, but this has not been done. Despite having a labour strength of 688, the department outsourced works worth lakhs of rupees.