An unholy nexus of government officials and contractors has looted Rs 150 crore of tribal welfare funds at the cost of Maharashtra's poor being relegated to abject poverty and remote wilderness.

An ashram shala for tribal kids in Nandurbar district. The report found that students had no proper meals or even chairs and tables to study
An ashram shala for tribal kids in Nandurbar district. The report found that students had no proper meals or even chairs and tables to study

The insatiable greed of state's tribal development department is documented for the first time not by the judiciary or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), but by an independent audit investigation commissioned by the government-funded Tribal Research and Training Institute (TRTI) located at Pune.

These are the toilets the children have to use every day. Attendance at many other schools was thin due to the poor facilities provided
These are the toilets the children have to use every day. Attendance at many other schools was thin due to the poor facilities provided

This newspaper has accessed hundreds of field reports of investigators relentlessly undertaking this audit for the past three years in tribal-dominated regions of northern Maharashtra. The findings of reports and testimonies of audit teams establish how deep this rot runs, and that these documented irregularities are just the tip of the iceberg.

The reports show welfare material and funds didn't reach the genuine beneficiaries due to the connivance, records were routinely fudged, and malnutrition and poverty grew despite a slew of welfare plans.

mid-day investigations show that, while the government claims 7,02,305 beneficiaries have been covered under 16 schemes during 2009-2013, only between 56,184 and 84,276, or just 8% to 12% of the beneficiaries actually got the goods and financial assistance.

In the Satpura range, Rs 144 crore from the Wadi programme was siphoned off, with only 3,675 of the 52,500 farmers getting the promised free seeds. Field reports accessed by this paper underlined the deplorable quality of welfare goods, so much so that they even endangered lives of beneficiaries at several talukas.

In several instances, it was found innocent tribals were made to pose alongside welfare goods, their pictures taken and updated in records without an actual delivery taking place. In Sarguna taluka, farmers were made to pose with a pair of bullock but did not eventually get the delivery as promised.