Monday, April 18, 2011

Did ‘oral orders’ drive range forest officer to his death?

DNA / Jumana Shah / Sunday, April 17, 2011 10:15 IST

The freak suicide of Yadvendrasinh Chauhan has exposed the deep-rooted rot of corruption in government systems in general and in the prestigious Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation in particular.

The story so far has been that Chauhan, a DFO in GEER had demanded reimbursements for work he'd done for the organisation.

Officials at GEER, he claimed in his suicide note, had demanded bribe to release the money legitimately due to him. An FIR has been filed in Adalaj police station against director Bharat Pathak and two other officials.

The amount in question is to the tune of Rs10 lakh, of which Rs7 lakh had been paid to him over the past one year and the remaining Rs 3lakh was due. The question that arises is why there was such a hullabaloo over Chauhan's claim for work that was officially assigned to him?

Because, parts of the tasks assigned to him were done 'orally'.For a senior officer to 'give oral orders' refers to assigning important tasks to subordinates without a written sanction.This is an unaccepted practice in government departments, but, as this case has exposed, often used by senior officers.

In fact, highly placed sources confide that lately this practice has been rampant in the department. Most importantly, these 'irregularities' have been pointed out to all the officials in the forest and environment department and the chief secretary by the Gujarat Forest Services association on several occasions.

But absolutely no action has been taken. Shocked by the death of Chauhan, his former colleagues and peers in the services believe that he has been a victim not of the greed of one or two officers, who allegedly demanded bribe from him, but of a deep decay of massive corruption in the system which is being conveniently ignored by the government.

Significantly, GEER Foundation is headed by the chief minister directly and all communication in this matter has been marked to him. But, sources claim there never has been any response from the CMO to letters shot by the association over corruption charges.

“The CM office on the other hand has received international awards for prompt response to any communication with them,” they put rather acidically.

The copy of one such letter written in early 2009, in possession of DNA, clearly states that this practice of giving oral orders was being followed and tasks and expenses out of the purview of the organisation was being undertaken.

The letter states that officers would refuse to sign documents when approached for official sanction. Additional principal chief conservator of forest CN Pandey held the post of director at GEER for a-not-very-common seven long years between 2004 and 2010.

"Senior officers orally give instructions to execute an ambitious project. This is typically done to put showcase projects, like the butterfly park in this case, on the fast track, to impress the powers that be. The responsibility for theproject is with the lower rung officials but the power to sanction the money continues with top bosses," said a reliable source, refusing to be identified for fear of backlash. Not deciding the contours of the project at the outset itself leads to submission of exaggerated claims by executing teams. "For example, work worth Rs1 lakh would be claimed as Rs10 lakh. As there was no sanction to begin with, documents would be forged to clear these claims.Irregularities galore. This is a very very common practice in the entire forest department," said a forester, underlining 'very' several times over.

"Mind you, this is all tax-payers' money," he smiles. In Chauhan's case, this is clearly what has happened. "Because he was under pressure to execute an ambitious project, though orally assigned to him, he perhaps went as far as to pour money from his own pocket to finish it. He was assured by his seniors that the money will be 'adjusted' and granted to him. But that didn't happen and there was a change of guard. The new officials were in the process of 'regularising' the processes, when Chauhan lost patience and committed suicide," he elaborated.

Former director of GEER foundation CN Pandey, however, said he was not aware of the letters written by GFS association and refused to be quoted on the issue.

Chauhan's case, another source adds, is merely the tip of the iceberg. The question is why has the government not taken action to control the rot in the system?"Prosecuting one or two officials is not going to help. No one man is responsible for 'abetting' Chauhan's suicide. It is the corrupt system that has claimed his life," says the veteran officer with firm conviction.

Minister of state for environment and forest Mangubhai Patel refused to comment on the allegations of corruption in GEER or any action to be taken for internal irregularities. He dismissed the question by saying, "I am in Navsari right now and I don't know anything about it (the allegations of corruption). I am aware that an RFO has committed suicide and police are doing their job. I have nothing to add," he said.

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