The efficiency and integrity of the engineering department of the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) has been called into question over the delay and cost escalation in the construction of the civic headquarters.
The HQ has been under construction for over six years and is now set to cost nearly triple the original amount of Rs 39 crore.
The Shiv Sena, which is in the Opposition in the civic house, has gone so far as to allege that an unholy nexus between NMMC engineers and the contractors is responsible for the huge losses suffered by the civic body.
When a contract for the construction of the headquarters at Killa Junction in Belapur was awarded in 2004, the cost of the project was Rs 39 crore. Today the cost has reached Rs 116 crore, allegedly because of a deliberate delay on the part of the NMMC engineering department.
Tardy 1st contractor
The proposal for the construction of the building was approved by the General Body of the NMMC in October 2004. A contract for the construction of the building at the cost of Rs 39 crore was awarded to IVRCL in January 2005.
Yet, it was only in December 2006 that the contractor could start work on the site, since the NMMC had reportedly failed to obtain some clearances.
After the work finally could commence, all that the contractor managed to do in over a year-and-half was fence the area; no construction work for the HQ building was undertaken in that time.
In May 2008, the contractor claimed an increase in the cost of construction material and sought a revised monetary deal of Rs 89.18 crore for the work, but NMMC officials rejected it on the grounds that IVRCL was overpricing the project.
The NMMC then called for fresh tenders, but was unable to appoint a contractor. Again tenders were invited, and finally in March 2009 the contract was awarded to Ashwini Infradevelopment Pvt Ltd for construction of the building at a cost of Rs 89.99 crore — over Rs 71 lakh more than what IVRCL had wanted for the same work.
The Shiv Sena claims there is something fishy about the NMMC willing to give more to the new contractor but rejecting the lower demand of the first contractor.
Bahadur Bisht, a Shiv Sena member of the Standing Committee, alleged that the engineering department deliberately messed up the tendering process and ignored delays by the contractors in the construction of the headquarters building to benefit the contractors.
“If the (first) contractor started work in December 2006 and built just a fence till May 2008, how could NMMC engineers fail to notice the zero progress in construction for a year-and-half?” Bisht said. “So it is a case of complicity of NMMC engineers and the contractors and this has now resulted in huge losses to the NMMC exchequer.”
In February 2011, the NMMC engineering department took a decision to increase the construction area from the earlier 2.43 lakh sq ft to 3.57 lakh sq ft and revised the cost of the building to Rs 116 crore.
“How can the engineering department abruptly add extra area of more than 1.14 lakh sq ft in the original construction plan?” Bisht said. “In addition, the department also wasted vast sums of money and a lot of manpower on the construction of domes on the building when these were not in the original plan. All this has to be a plan to benefit the contractor and the consultant.”
Rs 22-cr interiors
The NMMC has also awarded a contract for the interiors of the building for Rs 22 crore, making the total cost of the headquarters swell to Rs 138 crore.
The NMMC is supposed to pay over Rs 5.5 crore to the project consultant, Hitesh Sethi, as 4 per cent consultancy fee.
The Shiv Sena has demanded a white paper on the whole issue, claiming it will reveal the large-scale corruption in the project.
According to the NMMC, the construction of the building will be completed before March 2013.
The other side
The engineering department of the NMMC refuted all allegations of deliberate delay and cost escalation to benefit the contractors involved in the civic headquarters project. NMMC city engineer Mohan Dagaonkar, who heads the engineering department, said: “There were some issues like CRZ clearances and ban on sand excavation that have led to the delay in the completion of the project. Also, at the very beginning of the project, the state government had brought a stay on it after the issue of corruption in this project was raised in the state assembly in 2005. However, there is neither corruption in the tendering process nor negligence on our part in construction of the building, and all decisions were taken in the interest of the project.” On the question of the high expenditure on the consultant, he said it was “a general practice”.