Shimla: Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) stumbled upon internal auditors in Himachal Forest Department maintaining service records of forest officers while 1806 audit paragraphs piled up over a 42 year period involving Rs 543.96 Crores of public funds awaited compliance’s and settlement.
A CAG report on state revenues presented in the Vidhan Sabha recently observed “internal audit wing of the forest department had not made any compliance / efforts to get these huge numbers of paragraphs settled, after the state auditor noticed that 868 inspection reports containing 1806 audit paragraphs involving Rs 543.96 Cr were pending on 31st March, since 1970-71.
Himachal Pradesh was declared the 18th State of the Indian Union on January 25, 1971.
An internal audit ensures compliance with the laws rules and departmental instructions, which help in correct assessment, speedy collection of revenue and prevention and detection of fraud and other regularities.
In the course of the CAG audit it came to light that the department was manned by a Dy Controller-cum-Financial Advisor and a Section Officer to conduct the internal audit.
However, of the 11 forest divisions test checked by the CAG auditors, it was noticed that the internal auditors had no conducted an internal audit in any one of them.
Interestingly, these officers were entrusted with the duties of maintenance of service records of Indian Forest Services (IFS), HP Forest Services (HPFS) and other gazette officers of the department, the CAG report points out.
Laxity in performance was also brought out in recovery of dues as arrears of land revenue for the 1955-1981 period from private contractors, who till then used to assigned the task of forests exploitation.
“An amount of Rs 2.09 Cr was recoverable from contractors. Outstanding dues were pending in the books of the department for the last 25 to 50 years without any efforts for its recovery or its write off after obtaining the approval of the competent authority,” the report mentions.
Injudicious reduction of royalty rates on timber lots handed to HP Forest Corporation, who after nationalization of forest in 1981 was made the sole agency for exploitation of forest produces, resulted in a revenue loss of Rs 29.32 Cr to the state exchequer in 2011-12. “The rates were reduced rates without authoriziation,” said Satish Loomba, Principal Accountant General, Himachal.
A test check of records in 28 units in 2011-12 relating to forest receipts revealed non or short recovery of royalty, non levy of interest or extension fee and other irregularities to the tune of Rs 390.92 Cr in 228 cases.
Regarding inspections of forests, CAG observes a ‘lack of monitoring mechanism’ as “No checking / inspection notes were maintained or references made in the monthly tour diaries and also no such notes were issued by any of the officers to the authorities concerned in cases where any such inspections or checking had ever been carried out.”
Records of just one division (Karsog) showed that between 1997-2009, HP Public Works Department and the Block Development Officer had constructed 27 roads measuring 42.9 Kms that involved 34.2 hectares of forest land without any approvals, with the forest department initially detecting the violations.
Not only the forest officials failed to stop the work but no cases were even registered. The government’s response during audit in October 2012 that action had been initiated against defaulting officials was not accepted by CAG.
The department is headed by a principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) under the administrative control of principal secretary forests, who is assisted by 8 conservators of forests (CF) in 37 territorial divisions. Controlling activities are carried out by Division Forest Officers in the territorial divisons.
Despite the state have large forest resources put at 14,668 square kilometers of tree cover, forest produce only contributes 1 or 2 percent of the total state revenues.