Prafulla Kumar Mahanta demands CBI probe into scam
By our Staff Reporter
GUWAHATI, Feb 8: Former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta alleged in the Assembly on Wednesday that hundreds of crores of rupees were misappropriated in the me of Bamboo Mission in Assam when the Congress was in power both at the State and the Centre. The gravity of the allegation compelled Dispur to order a high-level inquiry into the scam.
Speaking at Zero Hour, Mahanta said: “The Centre allocated hundreds of crores of rupees in 2004 to encourage entrepreneurs to develop bamboo industry. Many entrepreneurs evinced interest and invested their hard-earned money. They, however, got no technological support from the Bamboo Mission. At the initial stage, the Centre set up an independent agency – tiol Mission in Bamboo Technology (NMBT) – with allocation of Rs 200 crore. In 2007, the Centre set up another independent agency – tiol Bamboo Mission (NBM) – with an allocation of Rs 756 crore. Over 10 years have elapsed after the setting up of these two agencies, but no tangible benefits have accrued to the State as yet.”
“Glaringly visible were hectic activities among top officials involved in the Bamboo Mission for foreign tour in the me of holding training, semirs and the like for boosting bamboo technology in Assam. With NMBT and NBM failing to yield anything tangible, the Centre set up yet another independent agency – North East Centre for Technology Application Research (NECTAR) – with an allocation of Rs 292 crore. Though NECTAR has its headquarters at Shillong, its top officials officiate from New Delhi,” Mahanta said, adding: “Theirs is only entertainment in the me of Bamboo Mission. Even former Industry Minister Pradyut Bordoloi, Forest Minister Rakibul Hussain, and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi visited Chi on separate tours in the me of this mission. They, however, failed to observe here in the field what the State got from this mission.”
Elaborating on the scam, Mahanta said: “The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion of the Government of India in 2009 planned a Bamboo Technology Park (BTP) in Assam with a view to encouraging entrepreneurs to develop bamboo industries and providing infrastructure in the State. A joint committee was formed for the purpose. Ninety percent of the fund for the park was to be borne by the Centre, and 5 percent each by Dispur and entrepreneurs. The Centre allocated Rs 62.53 crore for the park. However, all rules were bent in the formation of the joint committee. Entrepreneurs who were long involved in bamboo industry in the region were denied participation so as to make space for a lot of Kolkata-based plywood entrepreneurs who had nothing at all to do with bamboo industry.”
According to Mahanta, there is no bamboo industry in the vicinity of Chhaygaon where works for Bamboo Mission are underway now. The senior AGP leader further said: “Twenty-seven percent of the Rs 62.53 crore allocated by the Centre for the bamboo park was meant for purchase of machinery. Strangely enough, a section of members of the joint committee of the park themselves are suppliers of such machineries. There are allegations that the rates at which the machineries were purchased were far above market rates. What’s strange is that Abhijit Baruah is holding 28 percent stake in the park by investing just Rs 1.92 crore. Baruah is a member of the joint committee of the park. So much so that even the State-owned AIDC’s stake in the park is 25 percent of Baruah’s stake in the park. There are allegations that Baruah and former Industries Minister Pradyut Bordoloi are hand in glove.”
The former Chief Minister said that despite the expense of hundreds of crores of rupees, Assam failed to get any benefit from the mission, though it ended up benefiting only a select group of people. “If Dispur orders an inquiry into the allegations, the truth can be unearthed,” Mahanta said.
Reacting to Mahanta’s query, Industries and Commerce Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said: “Though the scam took place in Assam, the tiol Bamboo Mission (NBM) is a Central agency. The Union Ministry of Agriculture provides funds for the Bamboo Mission to State Forest departments through the NBM. The mission in Assam is being monitored by the State Mission Director of NBM. We’ve asked the State Forest and Agriculture ministers about this mission, but they have expressed ignorance about any irregularity. We’ve, therefore, ordered a high-level probe into the allegations. Additiol Chief Secretary Rajib Kumar Bora will inquire into the allegations and submit his report. We’ve already taken a decision to hike the stakes of AIDC in the Bamboo Technology Park.”
Sticking to his guns, Mahanta later spoke to scribes outside the House, demanding a CBI probe into the matter.