2013 Uttarakhand floods: Officers relished mutton, gulab jamuns while supervising relief efforts

New Delhi: When lakhs of people in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand went hungry during the 2013 disaster, officials of the state government savoured mutton chops, chicken, milk and cottage cheese in the course of their Rs 7000 per day hotel stay supervising relief efforts.

From claiming Rs 194 for half a litre of milk to supplying diesel to two-wheelers, claiming more than Rs 7,000 per day for hotel stay, paying relief twice to same people, purchasing 1,800 rain coats from same shop for three days to making payment of Rs 98 lakh towards fuel purchase to a helicopter company, a string of financial bunglings have come to light through responses to RTI queries.

Taking cognizance of these alleged irregularities when Uttarakhand was reeling under one of the worst natural disasters, state Information Commissioner Anil Sharma has suggested a CBI probe.

In a 12-page order, passed after hearing complainant Bhupendra Kumar of National Action Forum for Social Justice, Sharma has taken note of bills provided by various districts in response to RTI queries seeking to know details of funds spent on relief work in the aftermath of the tragedy that claimed 3000 lives, with many still missing.

Records provided by the authorities showed that some of the relief works began on December 28, 2013 and got over on November 16, 2013, full 43 days before having been launched. Some other works were shown to have started in Pithoragarh on January 22, 2013, six months before the tragedy struck on June 16, 2013.

"From the records produced by the appellant, the Commission prima facie believes that appeal of the complainant along with all the annexure be sent to Chief Secretary, Uttarakhand, with the direction that it should be brought to the notice of the Chief Minister so that he can decide on initiating a CBI inquiry into these allegations," Sharma said in the order.

Citing over 200 pages of records received from authorities in response to his RTI petitions, Kumar claimed during the hearing at SIC that while people starved without a roof on their head, officials in worst-affected Rudraprayag district claimed Rs 250 for breakfast, Rs 300 for lunch and Rs 350 for dinner, totalling Rs 900 per day, apart from hotel stay that cost Rs 6750 per night.

Kumar alleged that total expenditure per officer per day hovered around 7000 as he questioned the 'obscene expenses'. He claimed the records showed diesel bills of 30 litres and 15 litres for vehicles bearing registration numbers of scooters, motorcycles and three-wheelers. "These vehicles run on petrol and do not have such fuel tank capacity as shown in the bills," he said during the hearing.

Kumar also provided records to show that Rs 98 lakh worth of fuel bills for four days had been cleared for a helicopter company. "There are instances when the hotel stay of officers have been shown for period before the tragedy struck on June 16, 2013. The price for half litre of milk has been shown as Rs 194, while items like mutton, chicken, eggs, gulab jamun are also shown much higher than market rates," Kumar said.

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