The Forest Department has placed a forester under suspension, on charges of allegedly siphoning off several lakh rupees for about a year, by issuing fake entry tickets to visitors at the Kovai Courtallam waterfalls, in Coimbatore district.
After an inquiry, the District Forest Officer (DFO) TK Ashok Kumar placed forester Rajesh Kumar under suspension. As the accused FRO Saravanan from Boluvampatti range has been transferred to Rameswaram, which falls under Madurai forest division, the officials have recommended senior officials of that division to initiate action against him.
Kumar is alleged to have executed the scam under T. Saravanan, a former forest range officer of the Boluvampatti forest range. The Department suspects that Saravanan would have received a higher share of the gains from the scam.
Conservator of Forests S. Ramasubramanian said Saravanan currently works under the Madurai circle. Top officials of the Department and the Madurai circle have been alerted about the incident.
According to the official, the ranger and forester used an additional billing machine to issue tickets, cash collected from which went into their pockets. The scam came to light after senior officials checked the reasons for low revenue from the tourism spot which had a high footfall of visitors.
Though the extra machine was seized by senior officials based on a suspicion of fraudulent activities, the duo followed another trick to siphon off ticketing revenue. “The machine prints a duplicate when a ticket is generated. The accused gave duplicates of tickets generated in the forenoon to visitors who came in the afternoon,” said Mr. Ramasubramanian. A ticket costs ₹60.
Meanwhile, the officials recovered Rs 35 lakh from forester Rajesh Kumar and deposited it in the account of the eco-tourism committee. Also, efforts were being taken to recover Rs 23 lakh swindled by Saravanan from November 2021 to May 2022 through the ticket scam.
Tourists to Kovai Kutrallam were stopped at Chinnar check post and issued entry tickets and taken inside through Forest department vehicles. The Forest department charges Rs 60 for adults, Rs 30 for children, Rs 50 for parking cars and Rs 20 for two-wheeler parking.
Acting on a tip off, the DFO constituted a committee to inquire into it. It was revealed that the accused Forest staff swindled Rs 58 lakh since November 2021, by issuing fake entry tickets to tourists. A case was registered, probe on.
Kumar, a graduate in computer engineering, continued the fraud even after Saravanan was transferred from the Boluvampatti forest range to Madurai.
The scam was unearthed by the present Divisional Forest Officer T.K. Ashok Kumar and the present ranger of the Boluvampatti range.
Mr. Ramasubramanian added that the Department is also investigating whether a woman from a nearby village, who worked at the ticketing counter, had a role in the scam.