Ahead of President Draupadi Murmu’s visit to Kaziranga National Park (KNP) on April 7 to inaugurate the two-day ‘Gaj Utsav’ which will mark the successful completion of 30 years of ‘Project Elephant’, shocking details of her predecessor Ram Nath Kovind’s earlier visit to the national park has emerged. The former President visited the KNP on February 26 and 27 last year and the two-day visit cost the park authorities a whopping Rs 1.64 crore. What’s more ironical is that part of the money used for Kovind’s visit came from the corpus fund of the Tiger Foundation, and the rest from a general wildlife fund.
This was revealed by Kaziranga field director’s office in response to a query filed under the RTI Act by activist Rohit Choudhury. Of the Rs 1.6 crore spent on Kovind’s visit, Rs 1.12 crore (68 per cent) came from Kaziranga Tiger Conservation Foundation’s (KTCF) corpus fund. This allegedly misappropriated fund was used for a variety of things such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner, renting a tent, buying an air purifier, renovation of the convention center, interior items, and furniture repair.
In accordance with Rule 25 of the Assam Tiger Conservation Foundation Rules, 2010, 90 per cent of the fund should be used to support field staff training, strengthen eco-development committees at the village level in and around the reserve, and to strengthen eco-development committees there. As a “society fund”, the remaining 10 per cent must be invested in fixed deposits. This was reiterated by RTI activist Choudhury as well. “I find it hard to comprehend why they used KTCF funds generated through tourist entry fees and other charges for a VIP visit,” he told India TodayNE.”
India TodayNE gained access to the letter from the Field Director of the KNP approving the allocation of Rs 1.12 crore from Tiger Conservation Foundation’s corpus.
“Some amount has been spent from the wildlife fund on several renovation projects, including procurement of air purifier. The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) may have combined the cost of the President’s visit with the amount spent on various renovation projects done under KTCF. I asked them to reclassify and submit,” Sarma told India TodayNE.
The Eastern Assam Wildlife Division’s DFO Ramesh Gogoi refused to explain this alleged misappropriation to India TodayNE. “We cannot speak on the phone regarding how we make financial arrangements. We don't bother. We have to run the business. I don't make policy, I'm just the executing body.”
Meanwhile, Assam Forest Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary has assured of initiating an inquiry into the diversion of funds for the former President’s visit. “We have already started the examining the misuse of funds. After finding all facts officials will submit a report to me,” he told India TodayNE.
Also read : Jeep, elephant safari at Kaziranga National Park to remain closed on the occasion of ‘Gaj Utsav 2023’
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