After 5 yrs, PMC wakes up to lack of vigilance officer

Civic body finally begins process to fill post of official responsible for review and scrutiny of projects

It took the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) five years to realise that the post of its Vigilance Officer (VO) is lying vacant. Officials at the PMC are now scurrying to shortlist names of potential officers for the post, which was last occupied in 2006.

A VO is responsible for reviewing and scrutinising projects undertaken by the various departments in the PMC, before it is forwarded to the municipal commissioner for approval. This is to ensure that there are no irregularities or ambiguities in the awarding of tenders for developmental works.

The PMC has a provision for appointing a VO, but for the last five years the post has remained vacant, MiD DAY has learnt. This means that files of all major works were directly cleared by the department heads and then sent to the Commissioner for approval.

Officials at the PMC said the post was created primarily to scrutinise the tenders floated and awarded for all developmental works exceeding Rs 10 lakh, which are then cleared by the Standing Committee, the highest decision-making body in the PMC. A floated tender consists of details like the nature, requirement and technical specification of a particular work to be carried out. 

Quite often, officials include doubtful work specifications, which are either not required or more than required for favouring contractors, sources at the PMC said. For instance, for building a steel structure, an official might advertise the requirement of high quality steel even when regular grade steel suffices or vice-versa., said an official requesting anonymity. The post of a VO was created with precisely that rationale and to curb malpractices, he said. He said the VO was also instrumental in curbing 'unintended malpractices' when works are being planned.

"During one such tender for a pipeline related work, a 200-m long and thin pipe was required, but the tender mentioned a requirement of 450m. This anomaly was immediately corrected and the tender was floated then," explained the official.

Officials have admitted to MiD DAY that hitherto files were cleared by the department heads without being scrutinised. Scrutiny of ongoing works after awarding the tender is also absent, officials revealed. When work commences on a particular project, corroborating the tender requirements, work specifications and lastly, the issued Work Order (WO) is also the VO's prerogative.

"The VO is usually a man with sound technical knowledge and who can conduct on-field inspections as well carry out the paperwork to detect irregularities," said another official. Another offcial said that a VO is otherwise a toothless body and could not take punitive action. "He only points out an irregularity and brings it to the notice of the Commissioner, who then takes a call," he said. 

The last VO was Shabbir Shaikh in 2006. Officials have now shortlisted 10 to 15 candidates from the  PMC ranks and the appointment will be made in a week's time. A VO has the rank of a junior engineer and is assisted by an assistant engineer. Superintending Engineer Srinivas Kandul said a few officials had been identified for the post but refused to comment further.  

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