Audit report of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests sourced through an RTI applicant reveals a slew of financial irregularities with charges of conflict of interest against its office bearers, since they funded organisations that were either co-founded or run by them
CHENNAI: In a classic case of conflict of interest, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) had sanctioned huge funds to two NGOs either co-founded or run by its own members, an internal audit of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has revealed.
Obtained through an RTI petition by Mysuru-based activist S P Mittal, the audit report says a total of Rs 1.23 crore was released to Blue Cross of India and Animal Care Land between 2012 and 2014 to implement animal birth control and ambulance schemes.
While AWBI’s vice-chairman S Chinny Krishna is chairman of Blue Cross of India, V Sreekanth Babu, who owns Animal Care Land, is a co-opted member of AWBI. Established under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, the AWBI has the mandate to disburse funds allocated by the Union Environment Ministry to animal welfare organisations (AWOs) across the country.
The audit found that due process was not followed while sanctioning Rs 1.99 crore to these two NGOs and Rs 5.84 crore to 56 other organisations.
When contacted by The New Indian Express, Chinny Krishna said he had resigned from Blue Cross in 2010. “Sreekanth Babu is a co-opted member who doesn’t attend meetings or get paid for his contribution,” Krishna said defending the fund release to Animal Care Land also. However, the official website of Blue Cross and Krishna’s own LinkedIn profile shows him as co-founder.
Other major violations unearthed by the audit team was release of grants-in-aid without inspection reports, utilisation certificates and the ministry’s approval. Any organisation is required to file inspection reports before getting funds in that particular year. But AWBI had sanctioned grants worth Rs 1.99 crore to the two AWOs based on old inspection reports, some of which were dated September 2008.
Despite requiring mandatory approval from the ministry to disburse more than Rs 15 lakh, AWBI had released Rs 5.84 crore to 56 AWOs and NGOs in 2014-15 and 2015-16 on its own, the report states. The beneficiaries include Hill View Farm Animals Refuge in Masinagudi in Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu. Responding to this, Chinny Krishna said the rules cited by the audit report are newer ones, and hence do not apply to the time when the funds were released.
“This has caused ‘serious financial implications’ on the public exchequer... Such arbitrary decisions have deprived many deserving/eligible NGOs/AWOs from getting the grants under the schemes due to manipulation either individually or in collusion leading to mis-utilisation of government money which is a serious financial irregularity,” the audit noted.
AWBI’s own rules prohibit releasing grants-in-aid to AWOs that don’t submit utilisation certificate.
The audit has found that grants totalling to Rs 3.96 crore were released to 329 NGOs and AWOs without obtaining the utilisation certificates - some of them have not filed proof for fund utilisation for more than 20 years.
However, 73 per cent of pending utilisation certificates (worth Rs 2.89 crore) pertained to only the last four financial years. These include Society for Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (SPCA) in Tirunelveli, Dindigul and Kamadhenu Social Service Association, Erode.
The audit concluded that no effort was taken by the Board to blacklist such ‘fraudulent’ and ‘incompetent’ organisations.
Chinny Krishna denied the audit accusations, saying there was a misunderstanding as sanctioned grants would be put on hold if UCs were pending. “Some are pending and we are taking all efforts to recover,” he said.
While ascertaining the reasons for not adhering the proper procedure, AWBI secretary M Ravikumar had informed the audit team that even he himself was not aware of the powers vested with him as secretary of AWBI.