Forest fraud

the Deputy Conservator of Forest (dcf) of Mysore's Hunsur Wildlife Division, A M Annaiah, has been held responsible "for causing loss to the public exchequer to the tune of Rs 6.14 crore'. The Karnataka Lokayukta, Justice N Venkatachala, has recommended disciplinary action against him. Even as environmentalists point out they had always warned the state government about possible misappropriation in its projects, Karnataka forest department (fd) officials contest the lokayukta's findings.

The indictment came on January 6, almost a year after a team led by the lokayukta conducted raids on the Hunsur division that comprises the Rajiv Gandhi (Nagarhole) National Park (rgnp) and Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary.

A sum of Rs 40 crore, to be utilised over five years starting 1998, had been allotted to rgnp under the World Bank-funded India Eco Development Project (iedp) and the Beneficiary Oriented Scheme for Tribal Development (botd) of the Union government.

Of the total amount, Rs 24 crore had been spent when the crackdown took place. The projects had identified promotion of wildlife and voluntary rehabilitation of tribals living inside the park as their objectives. But the lokayukta's report states that on the pretext of tribal resettlement, articles such as pressure cookers, gas cylinders, stoves and solar lamps were bought at inflated prices. This caused a loss of Rs 77 lakh. Besides, 12,833 trees, including 1,197 teak trees valued at Rs 5.77 crore, were felled. The raiding team also blamed Annaiah for the killings of 77 elephants in the park between April 2000 and October 2002.

"If a national park requiring Rs 1 crore for annual maintenance is given Rs 8 crore, there are bound to be irregularities,' says Praveen Bhargav of Bangalore-based non-governmental organisation Wildlife First. "We wrote to successive chief secretaries cautioning them that there was ample scope for such wrongdoing. Now, our worst fears have come true,' he adds. Incidentally, Annaiah had also been charged earlier with sexually harassing National Social Service women volunteers camping in the park.

But a conservator of forest claims: "Annaiah is a tough, no-nonsense officer. It is difficult to believe these allegations.' The fd officials also contend that it would be difficult to prove that all the irregularities took place only during Annaiah's three-year tenure.

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