An Assembly committee on environment has recommended a Vigilance investigation into the utilisation of the River Management Fund during the past 10 years in the state.
The committee headed by C P Mohammed has also recommended the institution of a State River and Wet Land Authority and, under it, River and Wetland Boards at zonal levels to prevent misuse of this fund.
Despite repeated requests, the committee was not furnished with the full accounts concerning the utilisation of the fund, Mohammed said. This itself is mysterious, the committee noted.
‘’The committee suspects widespread corruption and diversion of the fund for other uses. When the government’s accounts are audited by the CAG and that of the local bodies by the Local Fund Audit, it is not clear why the River Management Fund alone is audited by ordinary auditors,’’ the committee noted.
Section 17 (1) of the Kerala Protection of River Banks and Regulation of Removal of Sand Act 2001 stipulates that 50 per cent of the amount collected by local bodies from mining of river sand should be transferred to the River Management Fund managed by the District Collectors.
But Revenue officials who attended the committee’s hearings said that 50 per cent of the fund was handled by the local bodies, but LSG officials had little knowledge about the fund.
They also did not have a clear answer as to how the local bodies were utilising the money, the committee found. Although rules say that the mining of sand should strictly adhere to the volume fixed by the Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) from each ‘kadavu,’ this is being flouted left and right causing a loss of crores of rupees. The committee has recommended that an effective monitoring mechanism be set up to prevent this.
At present, river bank protection is confined to the construction of side walls by the Irrigation Department. This gradually transforms rivers into canals.
Sandmining is being indirectly promoted and then the River Management Fund is used to construct such walls. This has to be stopped, the committee said. Instead, the banks should be protected naturally by planting trees, cane and bamboo and vetiver, the committee said.