Srinagar: The forest protection force in Jammu and Kashmir lacks wherewithal to serve its basic objective with nearly 80 per cent of its staff neither equipped nor trained to use weapons, the Comptroller and Auditor General has said.
Among other findings, the CAG, in its latest report, has also revealed diversion of over six thousand hectares of forest land without following rules, less spending on conservation and poor work outcomes by those authorized to protect the state’s green wealth.
The forest protection force was formed in 1996 with a strength level of 2257 personnel. Five years later, government enacted J&K Forest (Protection) Act 2001, making FPF a statutory armed force on the pattern of police. The legal cover authorizes the force personnel to detect, register and take up investigation under rules for the forest protection, primarily to keep a check on illicit felling, encroachments, poaching, forest fires and illegal extraction or transportation of non timber forest products.
But the CAG has found that out of 23 units in the state, staff in 19 of them is without weapons and even not trained to use the armaments.
80% Forest Protection Force neither equipped nor trained to use weapons
10 out of 11 armories remained unutilized for 9-yrs, causing idle investment of Rs 1.46 cr
6281 hectares of forest land diverted in violation of rules
Only 10% funds left to be spent on forest conservation between 2009-14
Specific areas for Social Forestry Divisions not identified
“Arms and ammunition had not been provided to any of the Gamma units of Jammu division while only four such units out of 13 in Kashmir division have been given weapons and that too during the 2012-13,” the government auditor said based on records of the Gamma units.
The four units provided armaments including those deployed in Budgam, Kupwara, Baramulla and Tangmarg.
The auditor has also found that all but one out of eleven armory control room buildings, constructed at an expenditure of Rs 1.65 crores between 2001 to 2004, remained unutilized. Six of the buildings were constructed in Jammu division and remaining five in Kashmir with of it, in frontier Kupwara district, provided arms and ammunition.
“The remaining 10 armories remained unutilized for more than nine years, resulting in idle investment of Rs 1.46 crores,” the CAG said.
It has also highlighted how the department has failed to establish a proper communication system, prerequisite for force’s success.
“Between 2001 to 2004, the department purchased 244 radio sets at an expenditure of Rs 31.75 lakhs. All these sets stopped working from 2009 as their batteries got exhausted. New batteries could not be made available because the agencies which supplied them stopped production.” However, the auditor said, no efforts were made to provide alternate suitable wireless communication to the force required to work at remote places.
Instead, it said, the department purchased 190 sim cards under closed user group and distributed among officers, ministerial and field staff, incurring Rs 13.19 lakh between January 2009 to December 2013.
Scientific management of natural forest cover
Strengthen financial management in department, CAMPA
Provide adequate infrastructure, arms trainings to FPF
“The field staff was thus provided with infective communication system with limitation of network coverage especially in remote and interior forest locations.”
As on March last year, the auditor has also found that the hardware procured and installed in July 2012 at a cost of Rs 10 lakh had not been made operational. It was aimed to connect Gamma units located at district headquarters with Delta units at Srinagar and Jammu through satellite based nation-wide computer communication—NICNET.
According to state’s latest economic survey report, J&K has forest cover of 20230 sq. kms while Indian state Forest report 2013 puts it at 16053 sq.kms, 15.83 per cent of geographic area under the actual control of Indian state.
State’s forest department along with Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) are mainly responsible for management of the forests which are vital for the existence of humankind and integral to the sustainability of primary sectors like agriculture, horticulture, and animal husbandry, particularly in hilly regions.
The CAG has that during 2009-14, administrative expenditure accounted for 86-90 percent of the funds spent, leaving a meager 10 percent funds under capital component which indicates less spending on preservation and conservation activities.
Regarding CAMPA, the auditor noticed non-maintenance of accounts and non-adoption of uniform common format which is in contravention to its guidelines by the government.
Against its guidelines for keeping funds in interest bearing accounts, the CAG said, the money received by the state CAMPA was kept in current accounts during the period from 2007-13.
“The year-end balance ranged between Rs 3.51 crore 230.74 crore, leading to minimum interest losss of 12.24 crore (at saving bank rate) and maximum of Rs 24.48 crore (at term deposit rate) during the period.”
Besides, the auditor said, funds received from 2012-13 onwards were kept in saving bank accounts, earning 19 lakh as interest.
It also highlighted that Compensatory Afforestation Programme implementation had suffered due to non-maintenance of inventory of trees removed, incorrect application of compensation rates and non-obtaining of cost-benefit analysis report.
“6,281 hectares of forest land was diverted for non-forest use without alternate land being obtained,” the CAG said.
The government was to collect funds from projects wishing to use forest lands based on rates set for different classes of forests, called the Net Present Value.
However, for 90 sanctions relating to diversion of 123.93 hectares, CAG said, no NPV, amounting to Rs 13.40 crore had been realized by CAMPA.
The CAMPA funds were to be spent on greening other parts of the state in lieu of the forests handed over.
The CAG, however, has found that out of Rs 3.87 crore CAMPA funds received during 2010-11 to 2013-14, the social forestry department incurred an expenditure of Rs 3.06 crores on the basis of APOs formulated without conducting detailed survey which was otherwise to be done to collect physical data for identifying the measures to be taken.
“Works amounting to Rs 61 lakhs had been executed without administrative approval and technical sanction,” it said.
It also highlighted that specific area of operation had not been identified for Social Forestry Divisions, whose function is to create nurseries to produce planting stocks, raise plantations, distribute plants among people with an ultimate goal of greening the state.
During the period from 2009-2013, the forest department had claimed to have planted 70.13 lakh trees in the state with its cost, maintenance and protection borne by State Forestry Department, the CAG said.
However, it said, records of survival or sustainability of the plants were not maintained nor any records were available, indicating survival rate each year after the plantations.
In its recommendations, the CAG said called for scientific management of natural forest cover, strengthening financial management in department and CAMPA as well as providing adequate infrastructure and arms training to FPS.