CAG audit report shows wastage of tribal welfare funds in Odisha
A ₹1.5 million water harvesting structure but no water. Photovoltaic cells for electricity but no repairs for defective systems. These are some of the observations of an audit report compiled by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India on various tribal welfare schemes in Odisha, of which Hindustan Times has a copy. The report is likely to be tabled in the state assembly in the winter session.
About ₹1.5 million was spent for a water harvesting structure in Keonjhar in August 2016, but it could not run as there was no water. Thirty “improvised cooking systems” (fuel efficient chullahs and other modern cooking system like solar cookers) for providing safe and hygienic cooked food to boarders in residential schools were installed here at an expenditure of ₹7.6 million in December 2014 but could not be used because there was no running water.
Seven solar photovoltaic systems for providing electricity to schools in Paralakhemundi was started in 2013-14 at a cost of ₹4.6 million, but it is not working since April 2017 due to lack of maintenance by the vendor.
Tribals constitute nearly 23% of Odisha’s 42 million population, while 44% of the eastern state is notified as ‘Scheduled Areas’, declared under Schedule V of Constitution.
The schemes surveyed by the CAG audit report were launched by the Integrated Tribal Development Agencies (ITDAs), nodal bodies that execute tribal welfare schemes of the Centre and State, between Financial Year (FT) 2013-14 and FT 2017-2018.
First set up during the 5th Five year Plan Period, there are 22 ITDAs in Odisha for the state’s 119 blocks where tribals constitute more than 50% of the population. The main objective of the ITDAs are socio-economic development of tribal communities through income-generating schemes, infrastructure development programmes and protection of tribal communities against exploitation. Each ITDA is headed by a project administrator.
The audit of the implementation of tribal schemes by 8 of the 22 ITDAs, conducted between May and July 2018, found that between 2013 and 2018, the ITDAs received ₹752.90 crore and utilised ₹606 crore. More than 80 per cent of the money was meant for infrastructure development, while around 13 per cent was for income-generating schemes.
However, the audit showed that in the name of infrastructure development, a lot of wasteful expenditures were made. Four ITDAs installed 12 deep freezes for preserving vegetables and 3 aggregation centres for vegetable farmers between 2013 and 2015 at a cost of ₹2.97 crore. However, due to a lack of demand for such infrastructure, no presence of farmers’ federations and a lack of maintenance of the machines by the farmers as laid down by the ITDA, the machines lay unused.
ITDA Jeypore in Koraput district deposited ₹3.12 crore with the Odisha State Poultry Products Co-operative Marketing Limited (OPOLFED) in July 2016. The money was meant for constructing a poultry pellet feed mill, so that quality poultry feed could be supplied to tribal farmers at cheaper prices. The mill was also meant to boost the fortunes of tribal maize farmers in the region. But instead of using its own funds of ₹1.09 crore to pay salaries, pensions and loan repayments, OPOLFED diverted 2.21 crore of the ITDA money, leaving the feed mill project incomplete.
In another case of wasteful expenditure, the SC/ST department spent ₹2.13 crore for constructing three training centres under the Odisha Tribal Empowerment and Livelihood Programme. The training centres were finally built in March 2017, more than 6 months after the Odisha Tribal Empowerment and Livelihood Programme came to an end.
Under the ITDA’s Focus Area Development Programme, rubber plantations were set up and backyard poultry, goat rearing and apiculture,too, were launched from FT 2012-13.
But in ITDA Karanjia (Mayurbhanj district), rubber plantations on more than 156 hectares set up at a cost of ₹1.98 crore, had to be abandoned because the plants barely survived. “In 2014, the officials from ITDA came and motivated us to go for rubber plantation on our lands. We were promised annual income of ₹60,000-70000 a year. In our village at least 15,000 rubber saplings were planted, but 4 years later more than 70 per cent had withered despite all efforts. The officers come once or twice a year but did nothing that would have helped us maintain the plantation,” said farmer Chotray Singh of Karanjia.
At the ITDA project in Keonjhar, goat-rearing stopped when the animals died. The ITDA could use only 4.5 per cent of the money allocated to it. Similarly, at least 70 mother chick units for backyard poultry constructed at a cost of ₹17 million for rearing of birds were rendered non-functional as cooperative societies could not be formed in Nabarangpur, Koraput, Sundargarh and Rayagada districts.
ITDA Koraput constructed 124 night shelters for poultry farming of 124 tribals at a cost of ₹0.93 million, but did not give a single chick to them. During audit, 23 tribals and 19 women self-help groups said that poultry farming was not a sustainable livelihood programme for them.
At least 14 hostel buildings for girls and boys built at a cost of ₹14.77 crore in the districts of Keonjhar, Sundargarh, Koraput and Rayagada run by the SC/ST department were lying unutilized more than a year after their construction, due to a lack of electricity, no funds for the hostel messes and no boundary walls.
The CAG audit also points out that the SC/ST department did not have a mechanism to evaluate the outcome of various developmental activities undertaken for the welfare of the tribal population. Performance indicators were not fixed to measure sustainable livelihoods.
Odisha SC/ST welfare department secretary R Raghu Prasad declined to comment on the report but some ITDA project administrators of areas audited by CAG said that the ITDA had to undertake certain projects takes despite risks.
“A rubber plantation takes 10 years to mature but any laxity in maintenance for even one year is harmful for the plants. There may have been some mistakes. We will try to rectify them,” said Dharmendra Mallik, project administrator of ITDA, Karanjia. An official of ITDA, Jeypore, that failed to build a poultry pellet feed mill in the region, declined comment as he is yet to see the CAG report.
Rakesh Singh, president of Dalit Adivasi Mahasangh, a Mayurbhanj-based organisation of tribals, said that the ITDAs never cared for the interests of tribals.
“In Karanjia, tribals were cultivating Sabai grass and earning a decent income. Then the ITDA people came and asked them to grow rubber instead, knowing full well that rubber plants take a long time to harvest. In most places, the rubber plantations died within the first 4 to 5 years. Now the tribals have neither Sabai grass nor rubber plants to sustain themselves,” Singh said.