Even as over 5,000 people were killed and hundreds were stranded without food and water during the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, officials supervising relief efforts stayed luxuriously in hotels, binged on mutton chops and chicken, and made a host of financial irregularities, an RTI response has revealed.
Through the RTI replies, several glaring examples of forged and inflated bills had come to the light which showed officials billed the exchequer Rs 194 for half a litre milk, enjoyed stay in hotels which were over Rs 7,000 per day, relished mutton, chicken, cottage cheese and gulab jamuns.
The officials allegedly distributed relief funds twice to same persons, purchased 1,800 rain coats from same shop for three consecutive days, submitted fuel bills indicating that diesel was purchased for scooter and motorcycles which were camouflaged as four wheelers.
In a 12-page order, passed after hearing complainant Bhupendra Kumar of National Action Forum for Social Justice, Sharma has taken note of bills provided by various districts in response to RTI queries seeking details of funds spent on relief work in the aftermath of the tragedy that claimed 3,000 lives, with many still missing.
In fact, some officials even claimed to have started relief work in January 2013, six months before Uttarakhand was ravaged by floods in June.
“There are instances when the hotel stay of officers have been shown for period before the tragedy struck on June 16, 2013. The price for half litre of milk has been shown as Rs 194, while items like mutton, chicken, eggs, gulab jamun are also shown much higher than market rates,” complainant Bhupendra Kumar of National Action Forum for Social Justice said.
Kumar further claimed that while people starved without a roof overtheir head, officials in worst-affected Rudraprayag district claimed Rs 250 for breakfast, Rs 300 for lunch and Rs 350 for dinner, totalling Rs 900 per day, apart from hotel stay that cost Rs 6,750 per night.
Kumar received 200 pages of records in response to his RTI query about the details of funds spent on relief work following the tragedy.
State Information Commissioner of Uttarakhand Anil Sharma recommended a CBI probe following the Uttarakhand flood scam.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat too ordered a probe into the alleged swindling of funds by state government officials during relief operations after 2013 floods through submission of inflated and forged bills. However the opposition is far from impressed. BJP is asking for resignation of the government and a CBI probe into the whole matter.
“Our stand has been vindicated by the findings of the Information Commission in response to an RTI query. “We have all along been demanding a white paper and a CBI probe into distribution of relief material in the state in the wake of the tragedy,” Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly Ajay Bhatt said.
“We always smelt the rat the way the entire exercise was being carried out,” Bhatt said. Alleging that the “scam” was committed by “insensitive” officials in connivance with government functionaries, he said huge amounts were received as assistance by the state from all over the world but no one knows where it went.
“We always said that money pouring in from different directions was being pocketed by people involved in distribution of relief but no one paid attention to us,” he said. “If the state government has even an iota of morality left in it, it should recommend a CBI probe into the scam and resign owning moral responsibility for the ugly loot of money meant for people struck by an unprecedented tragedy,” he said.
With inputs from PTI