In many cases of illegalities, the CAG notes, the environment ministry blamed either lack of resources to monitor projects and funds on ground or the State governments, for the subject is under their mandate.
The CAG rejected their defense in most of these cases and indicated that the environment ministry was as culpable as the State governments.
It noted that through six years and such large-scale illegalities being detected in only three cases had the government moved to penalise officials and that too merely in the form of a departmental inquiry.
The auditors record that the funds collected were misused in many cases. They report that records of how efficiently the funds were used to actually grow alternative lands as forests do not exist. This led to the Centre having little idea of how the funds are being utilised.
Money meant to grow back forests was instead used to buy jeeps and build houses in some cases and is missing in others, test checks by the CAG disclosed.
The funds collected at the Centre and later disbursed to the States, amounting to Rs. 2,925 crore, have also not been utilised effectively. In 11 of the 30 States, utilisation of funds was below 50%. Countrywide, only 61% of the funds disbursed were used — which implies that the forests that were to come as replenishment for the lost foliage never did.
The thousands of crores collected by the Ad-hoc CAMPA body were never submitted for audits and the accounts not maintained properly. There is not even a process in place to report the collection or expenditure of this large fund to either the Parliament or the State legislatures. It was found out during the audit that deposits worth Rs. 1,998.47 crore were placed in banks that did not even bid for the funds and rules were frequently bent while deciding where the large sums would be parked as investments.
CAG notes, “the mechanism for investment of surplus funds by the Ad-hoc CAMPA was arbitrary and lacked in fairness and transparency.”
The Ad-hoc CAMPA comprised of the Director General of forests, the senior most forest officer in the ministry, the Inspector General of Forests (Forest Conservation), a representative of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, and a nominee of the Chairman of the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court on forestry issues.
The entire idea of the CAMPA had flown out of the recommendations of the Centrally Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court which had ex-forest officers on board. The CAG says the chairman of CAMPA repeatedly refused to approve and formulate a comprehensive investment policy for the funds.
The CAMPA maintained in total 140 bank accounts without proper documents. CAG notes that funds running into hundreds of crores were transferred from the current account of the Central Empowered Committee to the accounts of Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, respectively. These and some other accounts to which money was moved did not feature in the list of 140 accounts maintained by the Ad-hoc CAMPA. Bids from banks for parking the funds were received over phones on occasions rather than under due process by ministry officials. The DG forests parked large funds by fixing rates with banks on phone personally, it is noted. Sometimes even hand written notes from bankers were used as bids and interest rates were fixed with different inks — indicating fudging. More than Rs 1,000 crore was invested with banks without calling for bids.