The Justice Nagamohan Das committee is set to start its investigation into the 40% commission allegation made by contractors against the previous BJP government. While works have come to standstill, Karnataka State Contractors’ Association president D Kempanna urges the government to clear the pending bills and start the works. In a conversation with The New Sunday Express, Kempanna says the commission should be reduced to 15%.
Why are contractors’ bills worth Rs 25,000 crore pending with the government?
Work orders were more than the grants allocated to departments. After 2019, huge irregularities occurred in all departments, especially Irrigation.
For how long have the bills been pending?
In the past, bills of around Rs 5,000 crore would be pending and we would write to officials concerned to clear them. But after 2019, they started favouring select contractors and failed to follow seniority. A man who retired as a driver with BMTC became a contractor and got works worth Rs 780 crore. He received favours from BJP leaders. The CBI probe is on.
What were the changes made after you wrote to PM Narendra Modi about the demand for 40% commission?
It made no difference at all. Twenty times we wrote to then CM Basavaraj Bommai and he gave us an appointment once. He didn’t respond to us further as one of his cabinet ministers had told him that contractors could be managed. As for the 40% commission, the contractors had to pay 10 per cent to MLAs, 24 per cent to engineers and the remaining to get the tenders approved. Sometimes it went above 40%.
When did it become 40%?
After 2019, the commission became 40%. In Bengaluru, MLAs took 15% to get the tenders approved.
Which department owes more?
It is in the irrigation department and BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike). No payments have been made for the last two years.
How is the situation in neighbouring states?
In Telangana, contractors pay 1% commission to MLAs and finally, it comes to around 15% to get the tenders cleared. I will not blame the present government which came to power three months ago as they neither allotted the new works nor released the amount against pending bills.
With the government rolling out five guarantees, will the situation aggravate further in the coming years?
Certainly. We have asked the chief minister to give us a guarantee for our amount too. Now, they are talking about investigating the works implemented under BBMP limits for the last four years. But the guarantee period for the works is one year.
Has the investigation been ordered to target supporters of opposition parties MLAs?
We cannot say that. But the CM and DCM were particular about the investigation into works done in Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Malleswaram as the concerned MLAs’ supporters were allotted works.
When you made an allegation last time, why didn’t you move the court?
Our counsel suggested that we insist on a judicial probe so that we can submit the documents. If we moved the court, our contractors would get targeted. Four contractors who claimed to have paid 40% commission bore the brunt. That’s why we did not move the court.
As a contractor have you also paid 40%?
No. Since I could not pay the 40% commission, I quit my profession.
How can this commission menace be checked?
A new system has to be brought in by fixing a timeframe for issuing tenders and giving approvals. But nobody is ready for the change.
Bommai claimed to have changed the system?
He did not do anything but favour a few. A commission was set up to check only the tenders of works worth Rs 50 crore and above that were of no relevance to most contractors. Just before the Assembly polls, work orders of Rs 700 crores in the irrigation department were issued at one go. That was to collect money for the elections. Where will there be money to pay contractors!
DCM DK Shivakumar said BJP-backed contractors made the allegations against the Congress government...
We have made allegations against governments of all parties. Since the Congress government is in power, Shivakumar might have felt guilty about the allegations.
You set August 31 as deadline to release the payments. What is your next move if the government does not take action?
After August 31, we will call for our association’s executive committee meeting to take further decision as we cannot wait any longer.
Has your statement that your association is not connected to the BBMP contractors’ association upset them?
They were never with us. There are three associations in BBMP and they have differences among themselves. Hemanth made a serious allegation, but later withdrew it. He had also approached me, but I said we can’t fight individual cases, but will extend support if he decides to approach the court. He had also gone to Shivakumar’s residence through an MLA, who happens to be his relative.
Why did he retract from his statement?
Because he had concerns about the work he has done and was worried that it may be revealed during the inspection.
Are there many such contractors who fear that inspection may expose the quality of their work?
Not really. Many contractors do not compromise on quality. But what quality can one expect if payments are not released for 3-4 years? BBMP has kept payments pending for the last 26 months and the chief commissioner says it’s common.
If 40% goes towards commission, how much is spent on works?
After the commission and paying taxes and keeping at least 10% profit, how much will be left? Finally, it hampers the quality of work. The public should be aware of this. Why are the roads in Bengaluru in bad shape? In many projects, not even 20 per cent of the money is spent on the projects.
Were you ever threatened for exposing corruption?
I have received some letters where people have threatened me. But I don’t worry much about them.
Do you have proof for each case? Is it in the form of documents or audio/video?
I don’t say we have proof for each contract awarded. But we have documents and it is sufficient to prove the 40% commission allegation.
What do you have to say about the 40% commission allegation becoming an election issue and causing BJP to suffer?
I would not like to claim that it all happened because of our allegation. It was one of the reasons and corruption was the main issue.
Is there no corruption now?
So far, there is no complaint as the government is just three months old. They have not started any work and issued payments.
Do you hope that there will be no corruption in the Congress government?
I am not hopeful that there won’t be corruption at all and I believe that we can control it to some extent only through our movement.
The new government is not giving works yet. How will the contractors survive?
The government will have to start giving works. They can’t stop them. Else, the public will turn against them.
Why did the commission issue become big now? Wasn’t corruption there earlier?
Corruption has always been there. Earlier, we used to give tips to peons or assistant executive engineers. Gradually, MLAs started demanding a share. The commission, which used to be below 20 per cent, gradually increased and rose to as high as 40 %.
Will the SIT formed to look into the quality of works affect contractors?
The guarantee period for the works is one year. But the SIT will check the works done in the last four years. How can it submit a credible report? If the SIT looks into cases where payment is made for works not done and punishes those involved, it makes sense. Checking the quality of works done 4-5 years ago is not prudent.
As giving a bribe is also an offence, there is a perception that the contractors’ association will not give any documents..
We are ready to give proof to the inquiry committee. We have already submitted some documents to the Lokayukta.
Do you think the rate of corruption will reduce in Siddaramaiah’s government?
I don’t think so.
What is the motivating factor for you to fight against corruption even at this age?
One day, I was coming out of my office and a woman walking on the footpath tripped. I heard her cursing contractors and blaming them for spoiling the country. The 40 % commission was already prevalent. Then I thought why should contractors take all the blame when others were also involved. Hence, I decided to fight against the commission culture.
Do you say 40 per cent corruption is the reason for the bad quality of roads and footpaths in Bengaluru?
Certainly. How can a contractor deliver quality work after paying a 40% commission?
Should contractors be held responsible?
Certainly! If there is no quality in works, contractors should also be held responsible.
If this government asks for 20% commission, will you expose it?
We are fighting for zero corruption, but we may not succeed as corruption has been there for a long time. But we have to reduce corruption at least to some extent.
How many contractors have been blacklisted for bad roads?
Not even one person has been blacklisted because they (government) themselves are corrupt. Not a single contractor has been blacklisted. The contractor does not prepare bills, it is the assistant engineer who does it. Assistant Executive Engineer and Executive Engineer will endorse it. Then there will be a third-party inspection. After all this is done, the government (Congress) says it will inspect, what does that mean? If you don’t believe in the system, how many officers have been suspended? Not even one officer has been charge-sheeted.
Now that there are no corporators in BBMP Council, is there less commission?
Corruption is the same all the time (even during BBMP administrator’s rule). The corruption practice is present now and was there in the past as well. People who have influence will use Commissioner.
Do contractors have to pay, even before getting a job?
Yes! we have to give advance commission. If you have to take a job, you should pay 10% commission to the MLA. For example, if the work is for Rs 1 crore, Rs 10 lakh should be paid to the MLA at his house, only then, works were allotted. In the remaining Rs 90 lakh we have to pay tax and other expenses.
How was the situation from 2013 to 2018 when was Congress in power?
Then, the commission was 20 per cent. Now it has shot up to 40 per cent. They should reduce it. So far no works have been alloted.
To avoid corruption, an e-tender was launched, what do you say?
Even there, there is corruption. We have to set it right