KOCHI: A study tabled by PWD Minister G Sudhakaran in the state Assembly on September 29, 2016 had hinted at the existence of an unholy alliance between big contractors, senior officers in the PWD and ministerial staff being the bane of Kerala and the sad state of its roads. At that time, there was some sabre-rattling about impending action against anyone who was part of this nexus. However, nothing further has been heard of this report.
Express accessed a copy of this report, labelled ‘System Study on Public Works Department’, prepared by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau. The seven-page report delves into a host of issues. Some of these are listed under the following heads: Corruption by boosted up revised estimates; Payment of bills without execution of work: Major corruption touch points in PWD; Resale of items issued by the department, especially bitumen; Posting of officials and Collection by higher officials.
The portion pertaining to corruption says, “This is done usually by highly influential contractors with the help of politicians and officials. Initially, they take the work at below-estimate rate. Immediately after signing the agreement, they manage to get a letter from local people’s representative recommending revision of estimate by changing the design or including some profitable extra works. Revised estimate is prepared and submitted to higher officials immediately.
The contractor manages to get a government order sanctioning revision of estimate or ratification of revision. The revision may range from 100 per cent to 300 per cent and above from the initial agreed rate. The bribe amount depends on the magnitude of revision and normally it amounts to lakhs. This corruption is usually done in works where estimate is above one crore.”
Unaware of report
PWD Principal Secretary G Kamala Vardhana Rao, when contacted on phone, said he was unaware of such a report. “If such a report is there, we will look into it. The contractors have not given any written complaint about the commission sought by PWD officers for clearing the bills. We will not tolerate any corruption in the department. All projects will be allotted and the works will be monitored closely to ensure complete transparency,” he said.
But the contractors who undertake this work had a different take on this matter.
“It’s difficult to undertake a PWD work in the state without providing commission to PWD officers. Nothing has changed though the government promised to look into the issues. A percentage of the money has to be paid as commission to different level of officers. Though the minister has taken many measures to prevent such corruption, things are still messy at various levels in PWD,” said All-Kerala Government Contractors Association Secretary Pradeep P.
Pradeep added the government needs to put in place a strong mechanism to ensure the contractors are not harassed by PWD officers. Those in the know of this age-old relationship between PWD engineers and big contractors feel that was like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black as the contractors are as much the beneficiaries as the PWD engineers.
Because, this is what another section of the almost two-year-old Vigilance report says: “For passing bills without executing the work, 50 per cent is normally given to the engineers as bribe. In case of Urgent Repair Works or Petty Repair Works, the works are not executed. Sanction is obtained for a complete re-tarring work immediately. The damages are covered by the second work. The bill for Urgent Repair Works or Petty Repair Works is kept pending till the completion of the second work.”
The minister was not available for comment.
Clearing debris a big task
TRIVANDRUM: Clearing up the debris alone was a big task for the Roads Department. Landslides created a debris of 2.85 lakh cubic metres (m3), while road debris totalled 51,760 m3, said a senior officer. PWD officers said some of the new technologies have already been used in a few stretches. For instance, geo-textiles technology was used in the laying of 22km road in Ambalappuzha and soil stabilisation in a stretch in Pathanamthitta by KIIFB.
“It’ll take just two days to build one km of road, compared to 2-3 weeks in the current method,” said a senior officer. Similarly, NRMB, which is manufactured by BPCL-Kochi, will also be used on a much larger scale in the road reconstruction process. The fund requirement is huge, but PWD Ministry officers hope the government will release it on a priority basis. The last Cabinet approved the sanction of Rs 1,000 crore for road-repair work and another Rs 200 crore for that at Sabarimala alone, officers added.