JAGATSINGHPUR: A coconut tree plantation carried out in Balikuda block at an estimated Rs 43 lakh as part of MGNREGS, has drawn attention of Jagatsinghpur Ombudsman who on Tuesday served a show cause on officials of Soil Conservation directorate.
Basing on complaints, Ombudsman Ramesh Chandra Behera visited Adhanga panchayat under Balikuda block in the district but found no plantation in existence.
Addressing mediapersons, Behera said notice was served on assistant director, junior engineer and section officer of the Soil Conservation division after getting allegations from people during his visit to the panchayat on Monday.
Sources said that the Soil Conservation wing had launched the plantation drive under MGNREGS in the panchayat in 2020. Over 4,000 trees were reportedly planted along a 26-km stretch with a total estimate of Rs 43.14 lakh.
In May, one Bijanjit Mohanty from Danga village of same panchayat sought RTI information on the plantation. The query had revealed that nearly 4,100 coconut trees were planted during 2020-21 of which 80 per cent trees survived till March last year. Of the sanctioned amount, Rs 28.46 lakh had been spent towards this purpose.
As soon as the RTI information spread, villagers cried foul and alleged that the whole scheme was a hoax as not a single coconut tree was planted. They also alleged that the amount of Rs 28.46 lakh was misappropriated by contractors in nexus with local officials by generating false bills without any actual work.
Following the allegations, Mohanty reportedly submitted a memorandum in Collector Parul Patwari’s office last week to unearth the racket but no action has been initiated. This prompted the villagers to seek intervention of the Ombudsman as they claimed that job card holders were deprived of work and daily wages from the programme.
"I had gone to Adhanga to inquire into plantation of coconut trees two years back but found no plantation in place. I have sought a reply from the authorities concerned within seven days. Action will be taken against erring officials if found guilty," said the Ombudsman.
Contacted, assistant director of Soil Conservation Prasanna Kumar Patra said the coconut planted along the 26-km stretch were damaged and a report on this has been submitted to the administration. "We have not received funds for second phase towards maintenance because not many trees survived," he added.