The Nagaland Public Rights Awareness and Action Forum (NPRAAF) has expressed deep concern over revelations made by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India regarding fraudulent payments within the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) concerning the Swachh Bharat Mission (Gramin).

PHED’s mishandling of drainage projects
According to the CAG report for the fiscal year ending March 30, 2020, the Executive Engineer of PHED (Urban) Dimapur Division was chastised for a lack of due diligence in verifying the quantities executed before approving payment bills. This negligence led to a fraudulent payment totaling Rs 90.54 lakh for the purported execution of 2,338 meters of drainage works across 18 villages, which were never actually completed, the NPRAAF said.

The report highlighted that Rs 501.10 lakh was allocated to the Executive Engineer (EE), PHED (Urban), Dimapur, under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) (Gramin). Out of this allocation, Rs 4.03 crore was designated for the implementation of Solid and Liquid Waste Management (SLWM), including drainage projects.

Despite the substantial funds allocated, the CAG report indicated discrepancies in the execution of drainage projects. While the Department reported the construction of 6,540 meters of drainage with bricks across 35 villages, scrutiny revealed concerns over the actual execution and expenditure, with Rs 2.53 crore attributed to departmental work across 29 villages.

Audit reveals shortcomings in drainage works execution
Further, the scrutiny of cash books, work orders, running account bills (RA bills), and measurement books (MBs) of 21 villages out of 35 villages revealed further discrepancies. It was found that 4,665 meters of drainage with bricks were certified as complete by the Junior Engineer (JE), PHED, with an expenditure of Rs 1.81 crore incurred by March 2019. The completion of the work was also countersigned by the Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO), PHED, and Executive Engineer.

However, a Joint Physical Verification (JPV) conducted in February 2021 by the Audit, along with departmental officials, Village Council Chairman/WATSAN (Water and Sanitation) committee members, and beneficiaries of 21 villages, found alarming disparities. Only three out of 21 villages showed construction of 600 meters of drainage with bricks in alignment with the work order, with an expenditure of Rs 23.23 lakh.

In the remaining 18 villages, the JPV revealed that against the reported construction of 4,065 meters of drainage with an expenditure of Rs 1.57 crore, only 1,727 meters were actually constructed, amounting to an expenditure of Rs 66.87 lakh. This stark contrast indicated significant shortcomings in the execution of drainage works, resulting in short or non-execution of 2,338 meters.

What did the government say?
In reply, the Government stated in January 2022 that the shortfall in drainage length was due to flash flood/natural calamity which washed off certain portions of the drainage and in some village’s drainage work was underway at the time of verification.

In regard to non-construction of drainage, the Department stated that the drainage works were delayed and were underway at the time of verification.

However, the works for both the shortfall and non-construction of drainage are completed, the CAG noted

The CAG said that the reply is not acceptable as the works were certified by the JE PHED as completed (March 2019) and were also countersigned by the SDO and EE. “Moreover, the villages in Dimapur are located in plain areas which are not hilly and there is no sign of wash away or landslides. The Department also did not specify either the quantity or location of the wash off area. Furthermore, no sign of wash off or work underway was seen and revealed during JPV,” it added.

Excess payment to Contractor In another case involving the PHED, the CAG reported that the department made excess payment of Rs 1.23 crore to a contractor by allowing higher rate over the State Government approved rate (Action Plan) for construction of Community Sanitary Complexes and deviated from the approved action plans and specifications during actual implementation.

Mismanagement in Swachh Bharat Mission Implementation
The CAG report also uncovered alarming discrepancies in the implementation of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) (Gramin) in Nagaland, according to NPRAAF. The report shed light on the mismanagement of funds and irregularities in the construction of Community Sanitary Complexes (CSCs) and Individual Household Latrines (IHHLs).

According to the CAG report, in October 2017, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation sanctioned Rs 35.13 crore as its share (1st instalment) for implementation of SBM (Gramin) during 2017-18. The Nagaland Government in December 2017 released Rs 39.03 crore (including State share) to the Chief Engineer-cum-Director, Water and Sanitation Support Organisation (WSSO), PHED.

Baseline Survey (BLS) was conducted only during 2012 for implementation of SBM (G) in Nagaland. Except in Viswema village, the CAG informed that the rate of Rs 1,80,000 for construction of CSC and Rs 10,800 for Individual Household Latrines (IHHL) were allowed for all the remaining 43 villages under EE, PHED (Rural), Kohima as per the GoN approved Action Plan.

However, reasons for providing CSCs at higher rates i.e. @ of Rs 2.48 lakh per CSC in Viswema village was not available in records, it informed.

The CAG informed that the Director, WSSO in December 2017 released the fund (Rs 39.03 crore) to 12 PHED divisions, out of which an amount of Rs 11.13 crore was allocated to EE, PHED (Rural), Kohima.

Out of the allocated amount of Rs 11.13 crore, an amount of Rs 10.21 crore was earmarked for construction of 9,457 IHHLs. Out of which, Rs 9.36 crore was earmarked for construction of 8,664 IHHLs in 44 villages under EE, PHED (Rural), Kohima during 2017-18.

Out of the 44 villages, Viswema village (under Jakhama Block) was allocated Rs 1.84 crore for construction of 1,700 IHHLs. The village was declared as Open Defecation Free (ODF) village with effect from June 2018, Scrutiny of records (August 2019) revealed that the Chairman, Viswema Village Council requested the Department in January 2018 to construct 200 CSCs in lieu of the allocated 1,700 IHHLs as the construction of IHHL in the previous years were not successful due to non-availability of land.

Accordingly, the Director (WSSO) approved construction of 74 CSCs at the rate of Rs 2.48 lakh per unit instead of Rs 1.80 lakh approved by GoN for implementation of CSC in the State.

The work was awarded (January 2018) to M/s CONSURV, Kohima, Nagaland on the basis of recommendation submitted by the Viswema Village Council and the work order was issued (January 2018) by the EE to the firm. The Divisional Officers certified in the MBs and RA Bills that the work was completed (March 2018) and the contractor was paid Rs 1.84 crore.

However, the CAG said that the Director, WSSO, PHED “arbitrarily allowed” higher rate of Rs 2.48 lakh per CSC for Viswema Village which is in violation to the State Government approved Action Plan for implementation of SBM (G). This resulted in excess payment of Rs 50.32 lakh.

It was also observed that despite allowing a higher rate of Rs 2.48 lakh per CSC, the CSCs “lacked sanitation facilities as provisions for washing basin, urinal pan, water syntax with stand, etc., were not constructed/ provided.”

The JPV meanwhile found in July 2019 that in six out of 74 CSCs, WATSAN committee members and the Village Council revealed deviations from the approved drawing/ specifications. “It was noticed that provision for water supply connection was not made in all the CSCs inspected. The departmental officials, WATSAN committee members and the Village Council also certified that out of the 74 CSCs constructed, 40 CSCs have single toilets and the remaining 34 CSCs have either single toilet with attached bathroom or two toilets without any other facilities,” the CAG noted.

It said that the deviations from approved design and specifications resulted in reduction of quantities in certain items of works viz. woodwork for roofing and doors, vent pipes, wash closet pan, etc., resulting in excess payment to the contractor to the tune of Rs 72.70 lakh.

The matter was reported to the State Government in August 2021, and a reply is awaited as of May 2022, the CAG said.

NPRAAF calls for action against corruption
The NPRAAF demanded that the State Government not remain silent indefinitely and urged the government to initiate an inquiry headed by the Chief Secretary or a retired Judge. They called for holding officials responsible for allowing higher rates and failing to exercise due diligence, emphasizing that remaining silent indefinitely would not solve the issue of corruption in the state.

The NPRAAF also appealed to the general public not to accept corruption as an established institution but to boldly voice their opposition against it.

The NPRAAF stated that they would soon meet with the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of India to apprise them of the massive corruption in the state across almost every department.

They would demand that principal investigating agencies establish offices in Nagaland to combat corruption.

Mokokchung Times

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