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Rs 150 crore looted from tribal welfare funds

A study by Tribal Research and Training Institute reveals that government officials and contractors siphoned off funds from schemes meant for the state’s tribal poor; only 8-12 per cent beneficiaries got intended goods and services

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.

Leaks in nucleus budget plan
The nucleus plan was started in 1981 to give financial assistance to individual tribals, offering a ceiling of Rs 15,000 per family and up to Rs 7.5 lakh to groups. The state data show 88 per cent of tribal people live below poverty line (BPL), and are given financial assistance for having income less than Rs 25,000 per annum. Under this scheme they get bullock pairs, carts, pump sets etc.

But, the probe team found that nearly 1,01,131 beneficiaries did not get benefits; they were usurped by local politicians and ‘well-connected’ individuals, who enrolled themselves by fudging the mandatory BPL records. In Kalwan, Nandurbar and Yawal, full benefits of this scheme went to politicians.

“Even when the political leaders got benefit of the schemes, they did not eventually end up using the benefits,” a report noted. Audit reports say several beneficiaries received incomplete sets of PVC pipes and electric pumps. Some could not get any water from the well because of this.

Many others got the PVC pipes, but not engines, and some got tools for an automobile garage, but not the sets. The tribals were forced to sell the incomplete material in the open market. 24-year-old K (name withheld), from the Tavdi tribe, told a probe team, “I was promised an automobile garage under the scheme. Eventually, I received only 10 per cent of the product promised by the government.”

An investigator, in his audit in Surgana, found very few beneficiaries received a pair of bullock promised. “Many tribals didn’t get the bullock. They were later taken to government offices and photographed with the animals, which were never delivered to them,” Riyaz Peerzade, an investigator from Pune, told mid-day.

Cost of audit

Rs 2,44,36,000
Talukas covered: Yowal, Chopda, Raver in Jalgaon, Kalwan, Surgana, Satana, Igatpuri in Nashik, Savarsai in Pen, Navapur and Akrani in Nandurbar

7,02,305
Beneficiaries covered in the schem

Rs 144-crore loot in Wadi programme
The programme was announced in 2003 to transform as many as 47,043 villages with poor habitation and water resources. It was hailed as one of the most comprehensive livelihood generation plans, designed to cover 40,500 tribals and 12,000 landless tribal farmers over five years. One of the sub-schemes was to distribute free vegetable and fruit seeds to tribal farmers.

Bhartiya Agro Industries (BAI) took up the Wadi plan at a cost of Rs 144.5 crore. The Mitra Organisation, a Nashik NGO, carried out the plantation for this. But, investigators found that only 3,675 of total 52,500 farmers in the Satpura range received these seeds between 2003 and 2008. They also found that no beneficiary list was maintained at several villages by the authorities.

In Yawal, the project officer (PO) did not even know such a programme ever got implemented in his region. “As far as implementation of this scheme was concerned, discrepancies in maintenance of records mirror a serious gap between delivery and functioning of the administrative machinery,” the report reads.

The BAIF later admitted to investigators that the programme was implemented in just three blocks of Raver, Chopda and Yawal. Here, too, saplings of mango, lemon, and chiku handed out soon suffered a pest attack. 
“We found that trees of just five farmers had survived the season in the entire region.

The families whose tree did not survive went back to their traditional occupation,” another field report noted. In Pal and Ravel talukas, trees dried up in absence of water; in Sahastraling village, the team found not a single beneficiary.

“This is a serious case of siphoning of funds and we’re worried whether it will be included in the final report the government produces before the public next month. This should be investigated further,” said an investigator who is a part of the field teams.

In another sub-scheme, the Jan Utkarsha Scheme, farmers were not linked to purchasing entities, thus leading to the failure of programme. A testimony of one of the investigating team reads: Only a few were satisfied with the Wadi programme.

52,500
No of farmers who were supposed to benefit from the seed programme

3,675
No of farmers who actually received seeds

First-ever audit of schemes
This first audit of 16 major tribal schemes is underway in areas of Yowal, Chopda, Raver in Jalgaon, Kalwan, Surgana, Satana, Igatpuri in Nashik, Savarsai in Pen, and Navapur and Akrani in Nandurbar, which constitute the most backward regions of northern Maharashtra. These schemes received a staggering R2,800 crore of the total R4,200 crore tribal budget of Maharashtra.

The audit was sanctioned in 2010, following allegations of irregularities during the rule of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Minister Vijaykumar Gavit. In 2013, the Bombay High Court found prima facie evidence of an alleged Rs 6,000-crore scandal in purchase of material for tribal schemes in Nashik and Nandurbar. The court had set up an independent commission to probe the alleged scam after hearing petitioner Bahiram Popatrao, a tribal from Nashik.

The TRTI, meanwhile, commissioned an independent audit at a cost of R2.4 crore. The audit will be concluded by the end of June, 2014, and a final report shall be submitted to the government thereafter. The report is likely to kick up a political storm in Maharashtra, since thus far, no real proof of the mismanagement in tribal department has been documented.

Homes for tribals in tatters
As per the Gharkul scheme, tribal poor are given Rs 60,000 to Rs 1,00,000 to acquire a home. These homes are built by government-appointed contractors and have a set layout plan.

The findings of the audit for Gharkul were disturbing, as it emerged this ambitious scheme was a complete failure in several parts. The state had allotted R7.2 crore for this work in 2012, but the probe found much of the money siphoned off by contractors, who handed tribals withdrawal slips but later forcefully managed ‘grabbing back’ the money from poor tribal beneficiaries.

Several beneficiaries did not get their cash subsidies even when Gharkuls were complete. The houses were found to be overall of poor quality. At Savarsai taluka, at Pen in Raigad, the investigators found partially constructed houses for the scheme undertaken for the Katkari tribe.

In Sahastraling village, the team found that not a single tribal was residing in the Gharkul homes. Despite following all norms, many were not handed over the cash subsidy. "The walls here were of poor condition and were about to fall. Tribals here were using Gharkul homes as storerooms, and living elsewhere. The contractors were looting money off them,” a field report noted.

In almost every Gharkul, the teams found the layout plans were not followed and construction was of poor quality. The investigators found that 28% of the Gharkul homes were incomplete (see box), many of them without toilets. In 62% of homes which got toilets, 40.5% of them was incomplete, 18.4% did not have water, and 36.5% got in-built toilets in the wrong location.

Of the total beneficiaries, hardly 4.7% submitted proof that they are actually tribals, leaving a big question mark on the verification process and questions on if genuine tribals made it to the beneficiary list.

Mess in the Ashram Shala scheme
This scheme was announced to give quality education to tribal children. But the audit concluded that classrooms in these residential schools turned out to be of “very poor quality.”

The auditors found it hard to put up in these facilities as guests. Most of the classes were used as dormitories; living rooms were filthy in most cases. At most places, stock registers were not updated, muster rolls were found incomplete, and construction was of poor quality.

When the team inspected the school at Taked village, Igatpuri, on March 22, 2013, it found the beds in “extremely poor condition”, and the toilets “unusable for human beings.” Cleanliness was a cause of concern, and students were not found to be satisfied, as they didn’t have proper meals, and studied in “conditions unfit for humans.”

There was no arrangement of cupboards, no clean bathroom, and no library found at most of the schools. At Lal Mati Ashram School in Raver, the hostel was found constructed in a dangerous manner without the use of sufficient water and quality construction material.

Toilets were dirty and students answered nature’s call outside. On March 23, the investigators reached a school in Kela taluka, Dhadgaon tehsil. “Nobody was found in this school and no attendance record was maintained. Absenteeism was common," the team noted.

At Rajbardi, Nandurbar, investigators were “shocked to see poor quality work and facilities.” Especially, because the school had an illustrious alumni list: including local MLA K C Padavi, Magan Pawar, the medical officer of Pune, and Jaysingh Pawar, a secretary with the state government.

The team concluded that even though the tribal department had enough funds, the monitoring, quality control and outcome of these were never considered. “The money was only expended on paper for this scheme."

Scheme for malnourished children
The scheme was designed to offer financial assistance to the guardian of malnourished children admitted to hospital. But, when on inspection the team found that records were routinely fudged and discrepancies found depending on which agency was approached.

The audit concluded that the scheme could not reach people of the area “despite all efforts put in by the government in the past ten years.” The audit found that children of only 4.4% guardian beneficiaries were found having malnourishment; 95.6% beneficiary didn't even have malnourished children.

When the probe teams reached a block in Yaval, discrepancies were noted in the records maintained by local authorities. The summary and recorded data of the past three years showed not a single case was reported of malnourishment for the same scheme between 2009 and 2012.

But, in primary health centre (PHC), a list of 12 beneficiaries was available. On the contrary, the list from local civil hospital declared there were no beneficiaries from the scheme in block. “This clearly established widespread discrepancies in records and registers, and poor maintenance of data.

The malnourished children were rarely being admitted to the hospital, and even in place where prevalence of malnourishment was high, parents were not aware of the scheme,” entry in a field report said. Sheetal Barela, 22-year-old from Karjane village, told investigators she was crossing across the border to Madhya Pradesh (MP) to avail health benefits even though there was a primary health centre in Chopda.

The schemes at a glance

Nucleus Budget: Launched in 1981 to ensure welfare funds reached the local administration so that a tribal is individually targeted and his standard of living raised. The ceiling for assistance was set at R15,000 per family, and group up to Rs 7.5 lakh.

Thakkar Bappa Adivasi Vasti Sudhar Ekatmik Karyakam: Launched in 2004, it aims to provide integrated development for the village or vasti. The promised facilities included community roads, repairing of water supply, drainage system, electricity, library, etc.

Khavati Loan Scheme: It was initiated in 1988 to fulfill the consumption requirement of farmers during the lean period of monsoon. Under this, family of four got Rs 2,000 worth of assistance - Rs 620 in grains, Rs 180 in pulses, Rs 120 worth in oil and Rs 1,000 cash. Until 2003, the government covered 8,98,487 beneficiaries, disbursing Rs 49,18,61,000.

Budit Majuri: It is supposed to help out guardians of children who are admitted to hospital with complaints of malnourishment. The parents are given Rs 65 and Rs 40 per day as compensation in wages.

Scholarship To Curb Girl Dropout: It was introduced as an intervention to prevent girl students from dropping out of school.

Gharkul Yojna: It was launched in 2009 to give financial assistance to tribals to acquire their own dwellings by following a type-plan for construction. The support ranges from R60,000 to R1,00,000.

Ashram Schools: It began in 1971 to reduce the socio-economic inequalities in tribal students, who were offered free residential and schooling facilities.

Other Schemes: There are some 128 sub-schemes, including English medium residential schools, assistance to physically challenged students, awards to exemplary students, employment programmes, military and police training to tribal youth, nutrition programmes, food and seed bank programmes, arrangement for exhibition of handicrafts, showcasing traditional dance etc

The 16 schemes under scanner
Thakkar Bappa Yojna: Current budget of Rs 245.24 crore
Ashram Shala: Current budget of Rs 183.68 crore
Grant for running shalas: Current budget of Rs 181.98 crore
Ekalavya Residential School: Current budget of Rs 5 crore
Police training centre: Current budget of Rs 7.5 crore
Construction of roads: Current budget of Rs 442 crore
Gharkul scheme: Current budget of Rs 50 crore
Wadi programme: Current budget Rs 52.93 crore
Nucleus Budget: Current budget of Rs 50 crore
Khavati Scheme: Current budget of Rs 45 crore
Budit Majuri: Current budget of Rs 56.95 lakh
Scholarship to girls to cut dropouts: Budget NA 
Opening of new classes for tribal students: Budget NA
Jamkhed Health Project: Budget NA
Development of PTGs: Budget NA
Shabari Vitta Vikas Mahamandal: Budget NA

Other schemes that failed
The audit found that in the Kahavati Karja Yojana, a staggering 77.01% beneficiaries did not receive the full quota of grains as promised under the scheme. In the Thakkar Bappa Adivasi Vasti Sudharna Karyakam, about 44% beneficiary declared they got facilities that were poor in quality.

In the girl dropout scheme, most tribals told teams that funds were falling short of the local requirement. In the police training programme, the training centres were found serving poor quality food, providing no water, and giving expired medicines to students.

The Shabri Tribal Development Corporation (STDC) was found suffering serious losses because loans were waived off by the government. The STDC is mired in losses to the tune of Rs 2.7 crore, and has never gotten any reimbursed from the government thus far.

Robin Tribhuvan, anthropologist, TRTI, said, “A lot of tribals still remain marginalised since the schemes don’t reach them because there is no unified front fighting for their rights. The benefits mostly go to people who are not even tribals. The government must streamline its system to separate real from fake tribal claimants.”

The other side
“There have been issues in the tribal development department and we are trying hard to shrug off this negative image. It is for this reason this study was commissioned and a report will be submitted to government at the earliest,” said Mukesh Khullar, Tribal Development, Principal Secretary.

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