The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has unearthed a scam of Rs 1.36 crore in the forest department in awarding excess compensation to two villages for damaged trees following land acquisition. The report was tabled in the assembly earlier this week.
The department had acquired land measuring 1,675.43 acre and 1,526.10 acre of Asrewali and Nadlan villages, respectively , in August 1984, under the Land Acquisition Act, for the purpose of forest plantation and soil conservation measures.
The land acquisition collector awarded compensation by determining the value of land at Rs 640 per acre, but the claims with respect to the trees were rejected on the ground that the land owner, whose land has been acquired, had cut and removed all the trees before handing over the possession in August 1984.
Dissatisfied with the award, the land owner filed an appeal for enhancement of the amount in the court. The additional district judge, Ambala, enhanced the value of land from Rs 640 per acre to Rs 730 per acre, but disallowed damages on account of trees in December 1991.
Later, the land owner filed an appeal in the high court. The high court increased the value of land to Rs 1,520 per acre with interest, solatium and additional amount as provided in statute as regards the valuation of land in October 2012. The damage on account of trees in the appeal for both villages was fixed at Rs 16.50 lakh each along with interest.
The scrutiny of records in May 2015 of office of divisional forest officer (DFO), Morni-Pinjore, showed that solatium at the rate of 30% and additional amount of 12% was also paid by the department in May 2014 on the value of trees in contravention of provisions of the land acquisition act and order of the high court.
What CAG says
As a result, an excess payment of Rs 1.36 crore had been made to the land owner on account of solatium and additional amount for compensation for trees and interest there upon. “In contravention of the provisions of the IT Act, the department released Rs 5.52 crore in May 2014 to the land owner without deducting the TDS amounting to Rs 90.28 lakh on the interest payments of Rs 4.51 crore on the plea that the land owner had given undertaking regarding depositing the IT himself, which was against the provisions of the IT Act and an undue favour to the land owner,”says the CAG.
What the law says
As per the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, apart from market value of land, damages sustained by land owners on account of loss of standing crops and trees was also payable as compensation. Further, an additional amount of 12% per annum was payable from date of the publication of notification to the date of the award along with 30% solatium on the market value of land. Further, the IT Act prescribe that while making payment of interest, the person/authority responsible for making the payment should deduct the tax at source (TDS) at the stipulated rates.