Politicians to be quizzed over dirty work in sewage operation

Getting paid without doing any actual work is every slacker’s aspiration, but few can pull it off. Now, certain contractors in the city are under the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s scanner for trying to do just that by submitting fake bills to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Initial investigations point towards an unholy nexus between contractors, civic officials and politicians.

Former mayor Shraddha Jadhav
Former mayor Shraddha Jadhav

The ACB has already questioned former mayor Shraddha Jadhav in the matter, and other netas are expected to be approached next. Jadhav confirmed having visited the bureau’s office in December 2012. “They asked me a few questions about the sewerage operation issue, which was discussed in BMC group leaders’ meeting in 2010,” she said. She also clarified that the ACB wanted information on the matter. “I have not done anything wrong or flouted any rules,” she told MiD DAY.

The subject in question was discussed in the 2010 congregation in the mayor’s office at BMC headquarters, which was attended by the then municipal commissioner Swadhin Kshatriya, additional municipal commissioner and leader of the house Sunil Prabhu, former Congress corporator Sameer Desai, former NCP councillor Niyaz Vanu, former MNS corporator Mangesh Sangle, BJP corporator Manoj Kotak and then education committee chairperson Rukmini Kharatmol. Jadhav, however, pointed out in the meeting that contractors had not managed to extract the money.

BMC has filed a first information report (FIR) with ACB against the contractors who tried to cheat the civic body by submitting bills worth Rs 95 crore for work on sewer lines and manholes that was actually never carried out. The scam itself dates back to 2008. A lobby of contractors allegedly joined hands with a few civic officials from the Sewerage Operation (SO) department to make the claims. “Though the invoices were not recompensed, this was an attempt to fraudulently pocket public money. So the guilty must be punished,” said Ravindra Waikar, then chairman of BMC’s Standing Committee.

He also stated that a budgetary provision of Rs 50 crore was made for making the payment, but this was later cancelled. “I wrote to the then municipal commissioner and demanded that the compensation against the bills should not be released,” said Waikar. “A vigilance inquiry is going on and we will get the report in the next six months. Then we will fix responsibility on officials, if any are found culpable in this case,” said additional municipal commissioner Rajiv Jalota. He also revealed that BMC had issued notices on the matter to 17 contractors; 16 have replied so far.

The vigilance probe was set up in March 2010 after the contractors were unable to produce actual bills for the assignments. Also, the investigating team asked the SO department to submit pertinent details, but the latter informed that records relevant to the case had gone missing. A preliminary inquiry report recommended filing of an FIR against the contractors and show-cause notices for at least seven civic officials, including some senior-level ones from the SO department. As per the report, 10 contractors in cahoots with 7-8 civic officials submitted the bogus bills to the corporation. When contacted by MiD DAY, Raj Khilnani, director general of police, ACB, said, “I cannot comment offhand. But, I will give you details in due course of time.” 

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