Mumbai: BMC's new rule to tackle corrupt contractors - Reduce vigilance

Nov 09, 2017, 08:20 IST | Chetna Yerunkar

New rule entails that contractors get paid for work even if there is a vigilance probe on against them; worse, while earlier 25 out of 100 files were scrutinised at random, the number has now been slashed to 10

The BMC has been rocked by scam after scam in the last couple of years, but this could soon be a thing of the past. Not because the civic body has suddenly become more honest - on the contrary, the corporation has decided to drop its vigilance, by reducing random checks of ward-level works to a mere 10%.

Earlier, BMC's vigilance department would carry out random inspections of 25 per cent of all ward-level projects. However, the department recently issued a circular stating that the vigilance checks would now be reduced to 10 per cent - this means that the vigilance checks will go down from a respectable one-fourth to just one-tenth of all works carried out by ward offices. For example, if 100 purchase orders are issued, earlier about 25 would be scrutinised for malpractice, which has now been cut down to hardly 10 orders.

Also read - Scumbag millionaires: The men who've made a bloody mess of Mumbai's roads

Last year's road scam had led to the suspension of the then chief of the vigilance department, and also exposed him to criminal charges
Last year's road scam had led to the suspension of the then chief of the vigilance department, and also exposed him to criminal charges

Interestingly, this decision comes after the BMC was hit by two massive scams in the last two years - the R352-crore road scam last year, and the R150-crore desilting scam in 2015. The scams had led to the suspension of Uday Murudkar, the then chief engineer of the department. He also had to face criminal charges. After these rackets were unearthed, civic authorities had promised to stay more alert to corruption.

Unfortunately, the reality seems to be quite the opposite. Not only have inspections been reduced, but the department is now also free to release payment to contractors without first completing its scrutiny of the work. Earlier, the practice was to withhold payment to contractors until the vigilance department had signed off on the project, certifying that everything was in order. Now, for projects that are under R25 lakh, payments can be made without waiting for the final vigilance report.

New boss, new rules
These decisions were announced in a circular issued in July, two months after Prakash Kadam took charge of the vigilance department in May. The circular was approved by civic chief Ajoy Mehta in June.

Also read - Desilting scam rocks Mumbai: 80 BMC officials probed after enquiry

The circular states, "The earlier practice of making payment to the contractor after closing the vigilance notifications in cases where the purchase order has been attracted for vigilance check in random shall cease with immediate effect." However, the circular adds that the executing department of the ward office should comply with the required documents, so that the vigilance work can be fast-tracked.

According to sources, this move is to support the contractors, as several of them had complained about delay in payment. A senior civic official said, "The random checks are usually carried out towards the end of the year, and the payments would be withheld till then, in order to ensure that no contractor is paid without due scrutiny."

Instead of fast-tracking the process and making it more efficient, the civic body has chosen to reduce its workload, a move that will no doubt raise eyebrows. As per the new circular, even in projects where vigilance officers suspect deficiencies, the BMC can now release payment after withholding the appropriate penalty amount. Once the department completes its checks and issues its final report, if the contractor is found guilty, the penalty amount will be seized and considered as BMC's money.

Official speak
Prakash Kadam, deputy municipal commissioner and chief engineer of the vigilance department, said, "The quality of work will not be hampered, as we will keep checking projects. We have de-linked the compulsion to withhold payment in order to allow ease of doing business."

Also read: Busy Vigilance Dept has no time to check desilting sites

Another civic official, who was involved in drafting the circular, said, "Earlier, there was too much for the department to check on. Now, we can work in a more focused manner; instead of scrutinising small works, we can find the bigger discrepancies and fraudulent practices."

Rs 150 cr
Value of desilting scam in 2015

Rs 352 cr
Value of road scam in 2016

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