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Pradeep Singh

Berhampur: In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when financial condition of people was shattered and availability of food remained difficult for both man and animals, lakhs of rupees were allegedly embezzled in putting up bamboo barricades and feeding stray animals in Berhampur.

As per an RTI reply sought by activist Pitabasa Panda from the Berhampur Municipal Corporation (BeMC), Rs 8,42,601 was spent towards barricading in the city during the COVID lockdown enforcement.

The reply stated that bamboo barricades were put up at 15 different places in the city for which a total of Rs 3.42 lakh (approx) on July 22 and Rs 5 lakh on September 8 was allotted by the government. It means, over Rs 56,000 was spent on an average for barricading at each place.

Raising questions over the exorbitant expenditure on barricades developed using a few logs of bamboos, locals of Berhampur have demanded an investigation.

"If we put up a barricade using around 10 pieces of bamboos, Rs 1000 is enough," said a resident of Berhampur, Ashok Shukla adding that a probe should be done as to who was given the tender for the same and all those involved in it.

Pitabasa Panda said, "At a time when people were hit hard by the COVID pandemic, some people here took it as a golden opportunity to loot. An immediate investigation must be carried out and exemplary punishment should be given to those found guilty."

This apart, the government had allotted Rs 7.2 lakh towards food distribution for stray dogs, cows, bulls, and buffaloes under BeMC jurisdiction. Food was to be provided to the animals for 33 days at a per-day cost of Rs 10,000.

For the same, the authorities reportedly assigned the duty for distribution of the said food to one 'Hotel Sumangatam' at Rs 8000 per day (negotiation rate) and spent a total of Rs 3,21,315.

However, animal lovers have questioned stating that if food is provided at Rs 8000 per day for 33 days, the total cost will be only Rs 2,64,000.

"We used to feed animals during the pandemic but had hardly seen any BeMC staff feeding," said an animal lover from the Silk City, Sibaram Patro.

"As the RTI reply shows an expenditure of Rs 8000 per day for 33 days towards feeding the animals, the total expenditure would have Rs 2,64,000. So, on what basis they are showing the expenditure as Rs 3,21,315," questioned RTI activist, Pitabasa Panda.

Besides, an RTI reply was also reportedly sought on whether the above said food distribution for animals and bamboo barricades were given on tender/ notification to contractors/ agency or given on official capacity by the BeMC Commissioner or any authority of the corporation, but the BeMC didn’t reply.

On the other hand, BeMC Commissioner Siddeshwar Baliram Bondar said that an investigation will be carried out as per the allegations and action will be taken against those found guilty.

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