Over Rs 5 cr spent on non-existent school toilets

From Cosmos Sangma

Total Sanitation Campaign scam in Garo Hills

TURA: Central funds for construction of toilets in different schools of East Garo Hills have allegedly been misappropriated to the tune of over Rs 5 crore during the tenure of the then deputy commissioner and current Tura DC Pravin Bakshi who allegedly allowed the systematic looting of public funds to benefit the Meghalaya Rural Development Society (MRDS) and a local contractor.

This scribe is privy to documents revealing the magnitude of the scam and the involvement of officials and private individuals to drain public funds without implementing the project.

The then deputy commissioner of East Garo Hills, Pravin Bakshi, as the chairman of the District Water and Sanitation Committee (DWSC) allowed the signing of two Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with the MRDS agency for construction of 691 school toilets under the Total Sanitation Campaign (TCS), which is now called Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA).

The first MoU was signed in 2010-11 for construction of 374 toilets and the second MoU was inked in 2011-12 for 317 toilets in schools. Both the MoUs were signed by the then DWSC Chairman Pravin Bakshi and MRDS project manager Perry Marak.

Surprisingly, the Member Secretary of DWSC did not sign either of the two MoUs and there was no date mentioned either in the MoU or in the note sheet. The Member Secretary did not even sign the cheques that were released to MRDS even though he was a joint signatory.

What is interesting to note is that the second MoU for 317 school toilets was allegedly signed in spite of non-receipt of Utilization Certificate (UC) and photographs for 374 school toilets of first MoU. The MRDS agency never submitted any UC, completion report and photographs.

A total of Rs. 5,32,07,000. (Rupees Five Crore Thirty Two Lakh and Seven Thousand) was released to MRDS for construction of 691 school toilets at the rate of Rs. 77,000. (Seventy Seven Thousand) per toilet.

MRDS took up the school toilet project in as many as five blocks totaling 691 toilet units. In Samanda it was allotted 106 units, Songsak 155 units, Rongjeng 94 units, Resubelpara 184 units and Kharkutta 152 units.

The scam came to light when several dozen schools in East Garo Hills approached the district administration for sanction of school toilets. When the records were checked it was found that toilets for these schools had already been sanctioned and the funds released to MRDS even though the toilets were never constructed.

The Block Coordinators, who were tasked with the job of submitting field inspection reports of the school toilets were also found to have provided unsatisfactory reports.

An attempt was even made by a senior magistrate to allegedly shield the then deputy commissioner and DSWC Chairman Pravin Bakshi from the blame even though everything was done under his supervision.

The Additional District Magistrate for East Garo Hills, M K Marak, who was tasked with probing the alleged misappropriation of public funds gave a watered down report just before his transfer on August 30 last year.

Finding the enquiry report of M K Marak highly superficial and ‘useless’ a fresh probe was initiated by the district administration where more revelations have come to the fore. ( To be continued )

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