It was August 25th, 2013. The last council meeting under the mayorship of Venkateshmurthy was underway. The media representatives coming out from the council meeting were distributed a press kit.
The press release with no sign of any authorities highlighted the continued payment by BBMP to works tendered by its Forest Cell, which can never be scrutinised and ascertained if they were really done in the way they should be.
The documents indicated that BBMP Forest Cell continues to make payments against 2923 job codes assigned four years ago. In addition to this, Forest Cell Chief Conservator Brijesh Kumar is proposing BBMP to disallow more than 135 unused job codes related to Forest Department.
Job codes with no termination date
Job codes are nothing but the work decided, approved and budgeted in order to achieve the department’s mission. It includes plantation of new trees or maintenance of old trees planted in 2007, transplantation of trees, providing fence around the trees, recruitment of tree wardens, watering, surveying, numbering of trees in various wards etc. These tasks are given unique numerical numbers for easy identification.
An unused job code is a work approved, budgeted and tendered, not undertaken by the contractor. These jobs are completely contractor-oriented, with no actual, effective mechanism to check the real work done.
Since there is no termination date for the job codes, the BBMP Commissioner needs to send an order to withdraw, discontinue or disallow these job codes.
Every year, BBMP allots Rs.20 lakh to the Forest cell, out of which around 10 lakh is spent on various jobs. Another 10 lakh is spent on operation and maintenance of online services, salary for office staff etc, explains Brijesh Kumar.
Undue expenses made against job codes
Brijesh Kumar says that these job codes are over four years old. By now the work should have been completed. If the work is complete, the payment against the job code should also have been cleared.
However, forest wing works are typically seasonal works which must be completed in the appropriate season. If not, it is fruitless to carry out them in the next season or year.
It is virtually impossible to cross-check and ascertain whether a work has been actually carried out or not, if any of the job code is not completed in a given year. Nearly all forestry works fall into this category.
There is very little likelihood of works commissioned during 2009-10 and 2010-11 remaining incomplete in 2013, as four to five years have already elapsed since the works were expected to be completed.
In other words, works commissioned during the year 2009-10 and 2010-11 must have been completed by now and the payment must have been done by now.
These job codes also proposed to appointment of tree wardens for every ward, however the novel idea remained on paper itself.
Till these job codes exist, it is mandatory for the Forest Cell to make payment whenever the bills are produced. “The bills are usually backdated which makes it difficult for inspection or even to trust. But, if the bills are produced, we have to pay. That is why we request BBMP to cancel these job codes,” he adds.
For this year, yet another tender is passed for Rs.6,94,654 for planting and maintenance of 1,41,500 saplings in eight zones (East, Yelahanka, Dasarahalli, Mahadevapura, West, South, Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Bommanahalli) of the city.
The job code issue was unknown to BBMP Commissioner, Lakshmi Narayan. He said, “Last year, ex- commissioner Siddaiah had already cancelled many job codes. If it is necessary to cancel more, Forest Chief, Brijesh Kumar can tell me any time, and accordingly action will be taken.
Handicapped Forest Cell
Brijesh Kumar Chief Conservator of Forests is an IFS officer, who was deputed by state government to BBMP in 2007.
He believes his department’s inefficiency to monitor the job codes is due to lack of staff. “Including me, we are only 20 people. How will we be able to supervise the work spread over the far ends of the city? If the contractor shows us the bill we have to pay them, if they don’t show, we don’t pay.”
This essentially means that there is no one to inspect the job done by the contractors.
‘Planting trees on outskirts’
Bhargavi S Rao, trustee of Environment Support Group says, “Nowhere the Karnataka Forest Preservation Act or Country Town and Planning Act talk about establishing the Forest Cell. It was BBMP’s vested interest to enable easy cutting of trees that led to creation of this department.”
Brijesh Kumar on the contrary says that when trees are uprooted they plant equal number of trees on the outskirts of the city like Yelahanka. When the rampant disappearance of trees in the city due to metro was pointed at, he lowered voice and said, “Those decisions are taken by the tree officers of the zones. They only look after the approval or rejection of cutting of trees. Nothing reaches me. I have no powers on issues.”