Irregularities alleged in purchase of boats

The controversy over the purchase of boats by the Forest Department as part of the Shendurney Ecotourism programme has taken a new turn with the Wayanad-based eco group Our Own Nature alleging moves to shield the culprits and the department denying a Vigilance probe into the deal.

Citing an inspection report submitted by the Store Purchase Department on March 31, 2016, secretary of the ego group C.S. Dharmaraj alleged a bid to protect those responsible for the loss to the exchequer.

He said the deal was signed between a senior forest official and SIDCO officials for purchasing boats.

However, an inspection report submitted by an audit team of the Principal Accountant General of Kerala has picked holes in the purchase order placed by the Forest Department for the ecotourism programme at Shendurney and Neyyar.

Verifying the accounts and registers of the office of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and the Chief Wildlife Warden from April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2016, the auditors came across grave mistakes in the boat purchases.

Mr. Dharmaraj said the audit report stated that the award of contract for supply of boats was given to a “defaulted firm” facilitating siphoning of public money.

“As per the audit report, the government has accorded administrative sanction for purchasing a 15-seater boat with double hull and double engine (40 HP each) at a cost not exceeding ₹38 lakh for the Shendurney Eco-tourism Project on March 31, 2015.

The Wildlife Warden at Shendurney executed an agreement with the SIDCO Sales Emporium in Thiruvananthapuram for supply of one 15-seater boat on March 31, 2015.

The report further stated that SIDCO is yet to deliver the boat to the Forest Department,” says Mr. Dharmaraj.

Acceptance letter

An RTI reply showed that the Wildlife Warden at Shendurney gave an acceptance letter to the SIDCO managing director stating that the department received a 15-seater boat on June 17, 2016. The warden on June 28, 2016 stated that she had erroneously written 15-seater boat in the acceptance letter instead of the 12-seater boat received from SIDCO, attributing the mistake to her busy schedule.

However, another RTI reply showed that the Wildlife Warden issued another acceptance letter in receipt of the 12-seater boat on June 17, 2016, to a Thiruvananthapuram-based firm, Nautical Lines, Mr. Dharmaraj alleged.

He demanded that the Chief Minister and the Forest Minister should order a probe into the deal.

Though Forest Department sources said an internal Vigilance inquiry was on in the matter, Additional PCCF Anikumar Dharani, who is in charge of the Forest Vigilence wing, denied any such probe.

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