Bid to push fraud under the carpet in Archaeology dept

Bid to push fraud under the carpet in Archaeology dept

 The Department of Heritage, Archaeology and Monuments has tried to cover up a case of “fraud” pertaining to declaration of ‘heritage cities’.

In the 2012-13 budget, the state government had declared 14 heritage cities, 6 ‘heritage areas’ and set aside a grant of Rs 1 crore. The department awarded the inventory/documentation works of 14 heritage cities of Banavasi, Malakhed, Badami, Talakad, Belur, Halebid, Melukote, Bengaluru, Nagavi, Lakkundi, Aihole, Balligavi, Sannathi and Kamatagi to a Hubballi-based firm and released Rs 49.5 lakh.

However, documents available with Deccan Herald show financial irregularities. The irregularities are recorded in letters written by two heritage commissioners. On March 27, 2015, C G Betsurmath (who still holds the post) wrote to architect Gitanjali Rao, director, ADEI, Hubballi, which was awarded the work and paid Rs 49.5 lakh for it. The firm was warned of legal action, if it fails to submit a report. The firm, despite seeking two extensions, failed to submit the report. It, however, succeeded in getting back the Rs 2.5 lakh bank guarantee it had pledged with the department, claiming that it had completed a majority of the works.

On October 16, 2015, Betsurmath’s successor R Gopal wrote to the government pointing to the financial irregularities and “loss” of Rs 49.5 lakh incurred by the department. “The previous commissioner failed to take action despite the delays. The officer is responsible for causing the losses,” the letter stated, seeking action and recovery of the amount from the officer.

Subsequently, the then Kannada and Culture secretary Channappa Gowda directed the deputy director H T Talwar to conduct an inquiry. Talwar told Deccan Herald that he had written back to the government. “I am a junior officer. How can I inquire against my senior? The government should conduct the inquiry.”

Defeciencies rectified

Mohan Kumar, engineer, Heritage department, said: “After much delay, the firm submitted the report in November 2015. It has rectified all deficiencies in the report. The report has been accepted. The government should further the matter.”

Official sources, however, said the department had not accepted the report as the firm had “downloaded information from the Internet” and submitted it as its report. No documentation, plans or estimates were submitted. The money too has not been recovered.

S R Umashankar, who recently took charge as principal secretary, Kannada and Culture department, said, “I will look into the matter and initiate necessary action at the earliest.”

How scam happened

On March 3, 2014, inventory works were awarded to architect Gitanjali Rao, director, ADEI, Hubballi. The firm was given two extensions - March 3, 2014, to August 3, 2014, and August 4, 2014, to December 31, 2014. Yet it failed to submit the report. On October 10, the department returned the bank guarantee to the firm as Rao had claimed that “more than 50%” of the project works were completed. The amount, Rs 49.50 lakh, was released to the firm in four instalments.