Uttar Pradesh’s 20 forest divisions made fraudulent payment of ₹1.37 crore for various works by mentioning false registration numbers of vehicles using which works were claimed to be executed, a CAG audit report has revealed.
The registration number of vehicles for which payments were done in the name of tractors and excavators were found to be registered as motorcycles, jeeps, scooters and mopeds, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)‘s compliance audit report for the year ended March 2020 revealed.
Accessed by PTI, the report was tabled in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly recently and highlighted the “fraudulent payment against plantation work” by the Department of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, among other State government organs.
Citing rules, the CAG said the Uttar Pradesh government provides that payments to contractors for works or supply can be made only by the divisional officer or by an authorised subordinate officer.
No payment should be made until the correctness of the claim, in respect of quantities and rates as well as the quality of work or supply and other necessary factors, has been accepted by an authorised officer, it noted.
“A test-check by Audit (December 2020) of monthly vouchers of payment for various works for the years 2016-17 to 2018-19 in 20 Forest Divisions’ revealed that the Divisions had executed work of digging of pits and trenches, soil work, transportation of saplings, cow dung, brick works, watering of plants, etc., for plantation and conservation purposes by using tractors and JCB excavators on contracts,” the report stated.
“The payment vouchers contain details of name of the contractor to whom payment was made, registration number of tractor or JCB, etc., through which the works were executed, details of works executed, rates and amount paid against executed works, etc,” it noted.
However, it added that the audit verified the tractors or JCBs’ registration number mentioned in the payment vouchers with the records of the Uttar Pradesh transport department.
It was noticed that the vehicle registration numbers indicated in the payment vouchers, against which payments were made by the divisional forest officer, were registered as vehicles other than tractors and excavators viz. motorcycles, jeeps, scooters, mopeds and others, the CAG report stated.
“Thus, the works for plantation and conservation purposes, claimed to have been done under vouchers with false tractors or JCBs’ numbers, had actually never taken place and the payment of ₹1.37 crore involved in 1,058 vouchers made to the contractors or individuals was prima facie fraudulent and the amounts so claimed tantamount to embezzlement,” it stated.
The audit reported (in December 2020 and March 2021) the matter to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF).
In its reply in January 2021, the PCCF accepted the audit observation and initiated disciplinary action against the delinquent officials, and added that the works were actually executed while the incorrect vehicles numbers were posted, the CAG said.
Further, the PCCF stated that an inquiry has been set up under senior officers at the headquarters for physical verification and checking of records, it said.
“The audit, while appreciating the course of action taken by the PCCF as per the reply, is of the view that given the serious nature of infraction, appropriate and timely action needs to be taken by the government against the responsible officials for the fraudulent payments and dereliction of duty,” the CAG stated.
“Further, the government may conduct a comprehensive examination of all vouchers of the concerned years in these Divisions for detecting similar fraudulent payments as Audit conducted test check for only selected few months in 20 Divisions,” it said in the report.
In its reply in January, the government had said the 14 officials had been suspended, 137 charge-sheeted and 44 officials had either retired or died while disciplinary proceedings against the remaining were under process, the report added.