Why only PWD? Take the broom to other agencies as well

Dharmendra JoreA corruption-free regime was one of the promises that the BJP had made to come to power in Maharashtra.

The 10 months of its rule so far have seen the present government trying to take the irrigation and Maharashtra Sadan scams to their logical conclusion.

Arrests were made in some irrigation projects and a chargesheet in the Sadan scam is expected to be filed soon. But, what has caught the public eye is the daredevil approach taken by the Public Works Department (PWD) in bringing people accused of corruption to book.

A nexus between contractors and engineers was established through a systematic probe and PWD Additional Chief Secretary Anand Kulkarni and Minister Chandrakant Patil deserve kudos for suspending 22 engineers for fraudulent practices in Mumbai’s 29 civil projects.

The probe has revealed that 19 contractors, who were hand-in-glove with officials, provided fake records to certify that the material used for construction met prescribed standards. Hundreds of crores were paid to the contractors on the basis of fake certificates and the fraud took place between 2011 and 2015.

The PWD’s actions should be followed in other agencies which have presence in Mumbai, where their alleged malpractices have affected the creation of quality assets — be it roads, bridges/flyovers and housing — as well as things like waste management. With the right political will, the BJP-led government can very well arrest corruption in these sectors as well.

Unlike his predecessors, who got promoted to the post through departmental promotions, Kulkarni, the first-ever IAS officer to lead the tainted PWD, has started cleansing the mess. In the past six months, PWD has suspended about 100 employees, who now face criminal action.

With this success, people now expect the PWD to probe the state-wide toll-collection scam. They feel that the culprits in the bureaucracy and the political class should get the proper punishment as per the law of the land.

While PWD has adopted ‘zero-tolerance-towards-corruption’ agenda, other agencies – the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corpor-ation (BMC), Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), Maharashtra State Road Transport (MSRDC), Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) and the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), which operates in Navi Mumbai — are lagging far behind in the fight against graft.

It should be noted that all these agencies are also headed by senior IAS officers.

When one IAS officer, appointed by CM Devendra Fadnavis to tame corruption in the PWD, can succeed, why can’t others from the elite service get clean-up jobs in their agencies expedited? Does this reflect a weakness among the babus or absence of support from their respective political bosses?

At this juncture, BMC chief Ajoy Mehta has his hands full. Among several alleged scams, he is dealing with irregularities in drain de-silting and road construction. He also has the alleged octroi collection and tablet purchase scams to probe. People in the BMC say that the politicians, contractors and engineers have been thanking scant rainfall for not allowing misdeeds in road construction and storm water works to be exposed for a public audit. But whatever rains have been received this monsoon have already put a question mark on the quality of work they have carried out.

MHADA, which is in operation in the city and the rest of the state, has always been accused of creating a mess of the concept of affordable housing.

Poor design, dismal basic infrastructure and sub-standard construction are clear markers to the existence of a nexus between bureaucrats, politicians and a particular contractor, who has been enjoying monopoly. One needs to stay in MHADA colonies to understand the state of affairs. Fadnavis may discreetly visit these colonies to understand the distress of helpless residents.

MMRDA, which has been projecting itself as a pivotal player in Mumbai’s development much before Narendra Modi wooed voters with the ‘achhe din’ carrot, is no different when it comes to facing allegations of corruption and irregularities. It is time MMRDA-constructed infra projects like roads, flyovers and viaducts are subjected to scientific scrutiny. The CAG has been very explicit in underlining ‘irregularities’ in conceiving and constructing the country’s only Monorail.

While successive CMs, who headed the MMRDA, have continued to ignore allegations levelled by the Opposition and prominent citizens, one hopes Fadnavis — whose party promised to be tough on the corrupt —will not spare the people responsible, including politicians.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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