Corruption worth ₹8.2 lakh in tree-plantation drive at Seven Loves chowk, reveals RTI
Members of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) party have alleged corruption worth ₹8.2 lakh in a tree-plantation project at Seven Loves Chowk in Pune.
The case came to light when the party representatives asked for details of the work done around the flyover.
“We had filed an RTI application on the name of the flyover bridge which was changed around a year ago from Lahuji Vasdat to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In a fight to get it back, we filed an RTI application asking for details of the official work that was done by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) while building the flyover,” said Atul Nade, member of VBA and a resident of Seven Loves Chowk area who filed the RTI applciation.
The garden department chief superintendent, who had initially refused to accept that the information was provided by his department through RTI, late shrugged responsibility of the knowledge of the bills.
“It has the stamp of the garden superintendent and not the chief garden superintendent. Therefore, since he is the appellant authority, he is answerable for it,” said Ashok Ghorpade, chief superintendent of PMC garden department.
An amount of ₹9.64 lakh was locked-in from the budget meant for the garden department. The title of the tender dated December 16, 2017 was to award the work to a private company to develop a garden around the open grounds in the vicinity of the flyover at Seven Loves Chowk, as per the documents received in response to the RTI application.
The description of the work is planting of Ashoka trees on the divider on the road-stretch between Seven Loves chowk and AD Camp and installation of a net around it. However, no trees can be found on the divider of the road.
“When the proposal was floated, it was sent to the road development department. To get a locking amount sanctioned, they sent the proposal to us as the issue is related to tree plantation which is our area of expertise. It was duly audited internally and then sanctioned. However, on the ground, the reality must have changed and the trees must have been planted around the area - which in this case was under and along the bridge. The confusion is caused by the words used for description at the beginning of the tender process and in the end. After all, the bills submitted by the company were of the work they finally did and not what was proposed on paper,” said a senior official of the garden department who was closely involved in the process and did not wish to be named.
On December 10, 2019, a refund stamp of ₹8,20,592 to the private company is seen on the tender document.
“We asked for the specifics of the bills that amount to ₹8.2 lakh which were refunded and they are not ready to show them,” said Nade.
However, the RTI response provides bills for other kinds of trees which the PMC officials claim were planted under and near the flyover bridge.
“The cost of a 3-4 feet tall tree is anywhere between ₹20-30. A bigger tree, around 5-10 feet tall, will cost anywhere around ₹1,000- ₹1,500. The ideal distance at which an Ashoka tree should be planted is 8 feet but it is generally seen planted at a distance of 5-6 feet. Sometimes it is purposely planted at a shortened distance in order for the foliage of consecutive trees to form a wall. Therefore, without the details of how they intended to plant the trees, it is difficult to estimate the cost,” said Suresh Pingale, secretary of agri-horticulture society of western India that manages the Empress Botanical garden.
There are two species of Ashoka. The true Ashoka (Sita Ashok) is named as Saraca asoka which is a medicinal plant, and the so-called Ashoka (which is commonly grown as avenue trees) is named as Polyalthia longifolia. The Polyalthia longifolia has a dimension of About 3 Meters (Diameter of the tree canopy) so the minimum distance between two successive Ashoka trees can be 5-10 Meters for their proper growth and to provide sufficient space for the canopy formation. The cost of tree guard is Rs. 200 per number for plastic or Rs. 800 per number for steel (As per Indiamart Prices),” said Professor Avinash B Ade of the Botany department of Savitribai Phule Pune University.
Given that the tender description mentions tall trees, the budget of ₹9.9 lakh can accommodate around 660 trees, excluding the cost of safety and labour. However, upon inspection of the site, only a metal divider can be seen on the site.