STATE TIMES NEWSJAMMU: In a brazen violation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public commitment, followed by the March 20th advisories on the Coronavirus Lockdown-1, no wages have been paid to 51 contractual and need-based employees running the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management & Planning Authority (CAMPA), under the Forest Department, in Jammu and Kashmir, in the last six months of the pandemic period.Non-payment of wages to the staff, who have kept the nationwide afforestation project afloat during tough times and a protracted lockdown in the Union Territory, also constitutes breach of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, pertinent guidelines issued by the National Disaster Management Authority and the State Disaster Management Authority besides the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 and a host of the UT’s labour laws.Officials confirmed to STATE TIMES that none of the contractual or need-based CAMPA staff had been paid any wages after March 2020. They invariably attributed it to ‘red-tapeism and lack of initiative’ in the Forest Department.Investigations revealed that the Executive Committee of the National Authority of CAMPA has approved an outlay of Rs 184.83 crore and released the funds to the J&K Forest Department in April and June, 2020. However the bureaucracy has withheld the wage component, forcing the contractual staff in CAMPA to starvation.The Centre has approved all the proposed activities of J&K’s Annual Plan of Operations (APO) for the Financial Year 2020-21. Out of Rs 184.83 crore approved and released by the Centre, the wage bill of the CAMPA contractual staff is just peanuts-Rs 4,66,750 a month, or Rs 56,01,000 a year; or 0.30% of the total outlay.The APO for FY 2020-21 for proposed outlay of Rs 185.66 crore was discussed and approved in a meeting of the CAMPA State Steering Committee chaired by Chief Secretary on 20th of February 2020. Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (APCCF) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) CAMPA, Sarvesh Rai, submitted it to the CAMPA National Authority in the Union Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change vide No: PCCF/CAMPA/2020/1085/732-34 Dated 28.02.2020The J&K APO was discussed and partly approved for Rs 105.76 crore in the 5th meeting of the Executive Committee of National Authority 0n 23rd of April 2020 and for carrying out essential plantation and other activities. The meeting presided over by Director General Forest of MOEF through video conferencing was also attended by J&K PCCF Dr Mohit Gera and CEO CAMPA Sarvesh Rai. The approval to the tune of Rs 105.76 crore was communicated to the J&K Government vide No: NA-15/14/2020-NA Dated 14.05.2020. It sought certain clarifications from the J&K Government with regard to certain terms and conditions and some activities in the APO.APCCF and CEO CAMPA furnished the clarifications to the Centre vide No: 101/GOI/2020-21 Dated 28.05.2020. The Executive Committee of the National Authority of CAMPA, presided over by DG Forest and, among others, attended through video conferencing by J&K PCCF and APCCF/CEO CAMPA, discussed the J&K clarifications in its 6th meeting on 27th and 28th of May 2020. It approved an outlay of Rs 79.06 crore, making it an aggregate of Rs 184.83 crore. The approval was duly communicated to the J&K Government on 19th of June 2020.APCCF/CEO CAMPA Sarvesh Rai further communicated the Centre’s approval to the APO, to the tune of Rs 184.83 crore, to all PCCFs, APCCFs and CCF in J&K vide No: PCCF/CAMPA/2020/F.No.1085/1638-1697 Dated 20.06.2020Without releasing the funds of the wage component to the field agency, Commissioner-Secretary Forest sought ‘clarifications’ from APCCF/CEO CAMPA vide No: FST/Acct/CAMPA/2020-21 Dated 10.08.2020. APCCF/CEO CAMPA furnishes ‘point by point clarification’ to Commissioner-Secretary Forest vide No: PCCF/CAMPA/2020-21/1014/2154-55 Dated 13.08.2020.In its initial approval, Union Ministry of Forest and Environment has impressed upon the J&K Government to ensure that the staff does not suffer on account of wages during the Coronavirus pandemic: “Also, in the prevailing unprecedented circumstances of pandemic Covid 19, where loss of job and migration of labour is prevalent, more emphasis is to be given in APOs on creation of employment opportunities. Therefore, while implementing APOs priority should be accorded to labour intensive activities for regeneration and development of forests”.Rule-6 of SRO 354 of 2009 Dated 11.11.2009 provides for utilisation of a minor part of the CAMPA Fund for disbursement of wages of the ‘need-based persons’ engaged for the purpose of CAMPA works in order to make it operational. In his clarification to Commissioner-Secretary Forest, the APCCF/CEO CAMPA has mentioned: “Further under CAF Rules 2018, Rule 6 (a) (iv) provides for meeting wages of contractual staff of CAMPA. Wages of need-based persons are being paid under this provision”.Officers in the Forest Department maintained that the delay in disbursement of wages to the contractual staff in CAMPA was due to numerous communications from the Finance Department seeking ‘clarifications’ with respect to engagement of the staff. “We have clarified that this staff has been selected on merit and through competition by a high level committee constituted under Government Order and headed by PCCF about eight years back. Now this issue has been resolved and we should be releasing their wages in a week’s time”, a senior official said.
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