A cess collected under the Meghalaya Environment Protection and Restoration Fund (MEPRF) amounting to Rs 1,193.30 crore (excluding expenditure) from 2017-18 to 2021-22 has not been routed through the Consolidated Fund of the State.
This was revealed by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in the latest State Finances Audit Report also known as Report No. 1 of 2023.
Audit findings revealed that the cess collected by the Directorate of Mineral Resources (DMR) was being deposited in three nationalised banks (SBI, Axis Bank and HDFC Bank) and investments made in fixed deposits in Axis Bank and HDFC Bank.
“As such, the collected cess to the tune of Rs 1,193.30 crore (excluding expenditure) during 2017-18 to 2021-22 has not been routed through the Consolidated Fund of the State,” the CAG report said.
“Non-routing of the above receipts through the Consolidated Fund results in fissures where such Revenue Receipts of the government escapes the notice of the legislature while not being captured in the desired manner and also will not provide a true picture of the actual revenue vis-a-vis the expenditure of the State to determine the fiscal parameters,” the report added.
It may be noted that the Meghalaya Environment Protection and Restoration Fund (MEPRF) came into being as per orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in March 2015 wherein it had directed the State government to collect 10 per cent of the market value of coal per metric ton and the amount so collected to be deposited in the account titled as ‘Meghalaya Environment Protection and Restoration Fund (MEPRF)’ to be maintained by the State under the direct control of the Chief Secretary of Meghalaya.
Subsequently, in compliance with the orders of the NGT, the Mining and Geology Department had issued the Revised Guidelines of Meghalaya Environment Protection and Restoration Fund in August 2020.
The Revised Guidelines which were also approved with amendments by the NGT Committee, Meghalaya, categorically stated in Clause 1 that the State government shall notify institutional mechanisms consisting of District Level Executive Committees, Technical Committee, Steering Committee and Monitoring Group to ensure utilisation of MEPRF in an efficient, effective and transparent manner, for the purpose of restoration of environment in areas affected by coal mining in the State. It also seeks necessary remedial and preventive measures with regard to environment and matter related thereto, including rehabilitation of persons affected by coal mining.
The administration of the fund as a whole is being discharged by the DMR, Government of Meghalaya. For this, approval had been conveyed by the State government, which has authorised the DMR to open a separate current bank account for the MEPRF under the direct control of the Chief Secretary, Government of Meghalaya.
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