Maharashtra announces probe into Devendra Fadnavis’s plantation drive
The Maharashtra government announced a probe by a panel of members of the legislature into tree plantation drive, the pet project of previous Devendra Fadnavis government, after a few members alleged the drive was scam-driven. Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said the committee will be constituted by March 31 and will be given four months to submit its report.
The government also announced a probe into the alleged ₹14-crore scam by Nagpur-based Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Samata Pratisthan. Social justice minister Dhananjay Munde has declared suspension of the government officials involved in the scam, which had come to the fore during the audit by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
“The scam amounts to ₹14 crore, allotted for the celebration of Dr BR Amebdkar’s 125th birth anniversary. The financial irregularities were revealed in the audit. The officials involved deliberately kept the CAG under dark by hiding the details. We are suspending the officials immediately. The SIT [special investigation team] will probe the irregularities further,” Munde said.
Munde said that the departmental committee appointed to probe the irregularities have revealed many anomalies. “The fund was spent without the knowledge and permission of the board of directors. The officials involved in the irregularity were politically well connected,” he said in a reply during question hour.
The question over plantation of 330 million trees during Fadnavis government’s rule was raised by Ramesh Korgaonkar, Shiv Sena’s MLA from Bhandup. Korgaonkar asked about the survival rate and the amount spent on the drive, saying many of the trees are believed to not have survived despite spending a huge amount.
Minister of state for forest Dattatrey Bharne said the survival rate was 75.63%. “Forest department spent ₹429.78 crore on the drive implemented between 2016 and 2020. 28.27 crore (282.7 million) trees were planted and their survival rate by October 2020 was 75.63%,” he said.
Leader of opposition and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis took strong objection to the probe, saying it was being constituted out of vengeance and to do politics over the issue. “Generally, around 60% trees from such drives survive. Here, the rate is too high against set parameters. The probe is being announced out of political vendetta,” he said.
Former forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, who spearheaded the drive, said any such probe is welcome as nothing will come out of it. “The government should ensure that it would not face embarrassment after the report was submitted. It was a noble cause undertaken by our government and we achieved the goal. We are not afraid of any such probe as there was nothing wrong in it,” he said.