Mrunal Manmay Dash

Keonjhar: Allegations of a massive corruption in a plantation project have surfaced from Keonjhar district where only 56 plants could be seen in the Sadar Forest Range as against the 56,000 plants mentioned in the foundation stone laid by the state government.

As per reports, in 2013-14 the Forest Department had undertaken a plantation drive under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in the Padmapur area of Sadar Forest range in the district. A plaque laid by the department after the completion of the project states that 56,000 saplings have been planted under this drive which cost Rs 17.77 lakh to the state exchequer.

The reality however looks quite different. The locals alleged that not even 56 plants were planted, let alone 56,000. Even if those many were planted, they all died due to negligence of the department.

The locals further alleged that the department did not pay heed to repeated complaints over corruption in the plantation project. Dejected by the apathy of forest officials, they then moved the Standing Committee of Odisha Assembly, which after visiting the spot on December 17, found mere 56 saplings planted there.

The members of standing committee reportedly expressed their displeasure after seeing the current status of the project for which lakhs of rupees were spent.

Brundaban Dehury, a local who happens to be an ex-serviceman said, “You can see for yourself. Barring 50-60 plants, there is nothing here. The forest department has made a mockery of forest here.”

The forest department however refused to comment on the allegations.