For dear life, when will we break the civic works nexus?
Broken walls, Sinking Roads, Leaking Pipes
Change the names…. Same story in all the cities.
H S BALRAM
It’s an open secret that unscrupulous contractors, in collusion with corrupt officials, fleece civic bodies by doing shoddy work and siphoning off taxpayers’ money. Every city in India has fallen prey to this dangerous nexus. Sadly, no stern measures are taken to eliminate the menace. Result:
Infrastructure remains poor, though funds are made available.
Bangalore, India’s IT capital, is high on this list. Badly-maintained roads, chaotic traffic, choked sewage and rainwater drains, missing footpaths, very few subways or skywalks for pedestrians, inadequate parking facility, acute power and water shortage, uncleared garbage, decreasing green cover and slow-moving development works, are the bane of this once peaceful and beautiful city.
On a rainy day recently, a wall built by one such contractor collapsed on a 17-year-old girl student, Sanjana Singh, who was walking home after attending tuition classes in the heart of Bangalore. She was buried under tonnes of debris. Her shouts and mobile calls failed to elicit response. She breathed her last before relief could arrive an hour or so later.
The city was shocked. Her family was shattered. Netas made customary calls to her house and offered compensation. Different inquiries were ordered.
The needle of suspicion pointed towards newly-elected corporator Munirathna. He was a contractor for civic works in that locality before he moved up the ladder. The portion that collapsed had been erected on a pipe without following norms. Munirathna was quick to deny his role.
When pressure built up, he admitted he had constructed only a part of the wall. The rest was built by a sub-contractor. He also threw a challenge: “I will resign the moment I am found guilty by an inquiry committee. I will give Rs 1 crore to Sanjana’s parents as compensation.”
Guess what the key findings of the first inquiry report are? Both Munirathna and sub-contractor Humesh Kumar are responsible for poor construction of the wall. Cement-sand-jelly stones ratio, which has to be 1:4:8 as per engineering practices, wasn’t maintained. Cement ratio was not only less but of poor quality.
No structural design and blueprint, particularly for the portion built on a pipe, was prepared. No inspection and supervision of the work. Weep holes that help water flow from one side of the wall to the other were missing.
Construction of a mandatory drain beside the wall to help water flow wasn’t done.
The estimated cost of widening of the Bellary Road, which necessitated reconstruction of the wall, was initially Rs 12.72 crore. This was increased to Rs 17 crore and then to Rs 29.55 crore, without government approval.
The findings are shocking. Not only were norms violated blatantly, but the corporation was cheated of funds. And the cornered corporator only says: “I will resign only if I am proven guilty by the court of law.
Now, a technical committee has given this report. The Lokayukta will also give its report. Police will also come up with their report. To which report should I respond?” So, no resignation. No compensation of Rs 1 cr to Sanjana’s parents as promised. The mayor says he has blacklisted both the contractors and written to the CM to initiate steps to force Munirathna step down as corporator. What about officials who connived with them or looked the other way? No action.
The public is skeptical. They fear the contractors will be back to their bad old ways, once the pressure eases. Just like hordes of corrupt officials trapped by Karnataka’s highly-proactive Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde. After a brief suspension period, these officials get back to their jobs, sometimes with a promotion. Only because he has no powers to initiate prosecution.
Only the other day, chief minister B S Yeddyurappa had boasted of cutting red tape and laying the red carpet to investors. If he is keen on turning words into action, he must start with the civic bodies.
Nothing moves here till the palms are greased. He must break the contractor-official nexus.