Forest department has failed to maintain jatropha plantations: CAG

The jatropha puzzle has finally been solved.

In 2005-06, most of the districts in the State were abuzz with the talk of jatropha. In press conferences, the then District Collectors, especially in those adjoining western and eastern ghats, talked of largescale jatropa plantations as the oil extracted from its seeds (blended with diesel up to 20 per cent) could be used as a substitute to petroleum diesel.

In 2006, the Centre released Rs. 10.50 crore for 3.50 crore jatropha plantations in the State for raising 3.50 crore jatropha seedlings. The funds were directly released to 26 District Rural Development Agencies (DRDAs) for distribution to the Forest Development Agencies (FDAs) for raising nurseries.

As per Central guidelines, the DRDA was responsible to ensure full utilisation of jatropha seedlings raised and plantations that were to be taken up on a cluster basis. Then no one knew what happened to the jatropha plantations and the government stopped making statements about bio-diesel.

Now, CAG audit reveals that the Forest Department and DRDAs failed to maintain the plantations, leading to a loss of Rs 8.35 crore. The DRDAs did release Rs 9.20 crore between June and December 2006 to 30 FDAs for raising 3.50 crore seedlings. The FDAs raised 2.80 crore seedlings at a cost of Rs 8.35 crore and refunded the remaining amount.

Out of the 2.80 crore seedlings raised, the DRDAs lifted 1.40 crore seedlings and distributed to the panchyats for planting on panchayat lands. The Forest Department planted 1.36 crore in forest fringes. Audit information has revealed that the survival rate of the seedlings planted on the panchayat land was in the range of nil to 75 per cent in 10 districts.

The Forest Department, despite instructions from state forest chief to take up plantation on a cluster basis, took up planting in forest fringes under wild condition without tending and watering.

The current status of survival was not recorded except in Madurai and Theni FDAs, the CAG said, emphasising that the two agencies did not have any action plan for eventual maintenance of the plantation and seed collection for oil extraction.

In its reply to CAG, the Rural Development and Panchyat Raj department blamed the poor growth of jatropha seedlings to monsoon failure and water scarcity.

The Forest Department replied that the plantations served as forest boundary demarcation strip, fire retardant, live hedge, soil binder and repel cattle entry into forest areas.

The CAG dismissed Rural Development department's argument as the annual rainfall in three years 2006-07 to 2008-09 was never below 200 mm. It also refused to accept the arguments of the Forest Department as the main objective of collection of jatropha seeds for extraction of oil was not achieved for production of bio-diesel which could have been an economic source of income to the farmers, and for which the Centre released funds.