Mumbai's firemen to pay dearly for uniform scam

May 06, 2015, 06:45 IST | Sachin Unhalekar

1,260 firemen, including their top boss, are being fined Rs 36,000 (juniors), Rs 72,000 (seniors), for allegedly pocketing Rs 700 each from money given to a contractor for supplying uniforms in 2012

One of Sitaram Kunte’s last signatures before leaving the post of Municipal Commissioner is going to burn a huge hole in the pockets of more than 1,000 employees of the fire department.

File pic for representation
File pic for representation

If firemen are to believed, 1,260 firemen, fire officers, and even the current Chief Fire Officer (the fire department’s head), are going to be penalised more than Rs 36,000 in the case of junior employees and more than Rs 72,000 in the case of seniors for trying to get good-quality uniforms stitched instead of accepting the uniforms that were being given to them by the BMC through a contractor.

Sunil Nesarikar (circled) said the clothes given by the BMC could never withstand fires, shrank after one wash and were made of poor-quality material
Sunil Nesarikar (circled) said the clothes given by the BMC could never withstand fires, shrank after one wash and were made of poor-quality material

Firemen say the BMC-issued uniforms were of poor quality, would not survive fires and would shrink after just one wash. What the firemen leave out, however, is the fact that the employees are being penalised because they have admitted to striking a deal with the contractor and taking 70% of the amount that was given to the latter in lieu of taking the “poor-quality” uniforms.

mid-day's report on March 3

While they admit to this, firemen say that the amount they got from the contractor was a mere Rs 700 in 2012, the year the scam came to light, and the BMC’s plan of penalising them by holding back their increments for two years is too harsh.

The penalty will amount to Rs 1,500 per month for junior employees and Rs 3,000 for senior officials respectively. The firemen also claim that they would not have to take the money from the contractor if they were issued good-quality uniforms in the first place.

For decades, the BMC had been issuing tenders and appointing contractors to get uniforms stitched for all firemen and fire officers. In 2012, the BMC was supposed to pay the contractor R2,700 for two sets of uniforms per fire department employee.

The same year, it came to light that the firemen had entered into an understanding with the contractor and, instead of taking the uniform, would pocket 70% of the amount given to the contractor, with the latter keeping the remaining 30% without even having to give the uniform.

The contractor used to supply the sets of uniforms comprising a shirt, a pair of trousers, a coat and a cap in phases and by the time the scam came to light, he had supplied material worth only R1,000 per employee to the fire department. The accused firemen had, thus, received Rs 700 from the contractor with the latter pocketing the remaining Rs 300.

This had been happening for years and, when the scam came to light, an inquiry was initiated. Firemen and fire-officers were grilled by the BMC authorities and, till date, 1,260 fire department employees have admitted, in writing, that they accepted the money from the contractor. 1,100 more employees are still being investigated as they haven’t accepted that they took the money.

After the initial inquiry, a fire officer and two clerks were suspended as they had mentioned in the muster, where the distribution of uniforms was recorded, that the contractor had provided uniforms to everyone as per the rules.

Crack down
The inquiry concluded this year and the report stated that the 1,260 employees, including the current Chief Fire Officer Sunil Nesarikar, took money from the contractor instead of taking the uniform.

Last month, the then Municipal Commissioner, Sitaram Kunte, issued an order directing that the increments would be held back for all the 1,260 fire department employees for the next two years (2015-16 and 2016-17).

The increment this year has been Rs 1,500 per month for junior employees - firemen, leading firemen and drivers - and Rs 3,000 per month for senior employees - assistant station officers, station officers, assistant divisional fire officers, divisional fire officers, deputy chief fire officer and the chief fire officer.

The order comes into effect from July 1 and the junior employees thus stand to lose at least Rs 36,000 over the next two years and the seniors Rs 72,000 (see box).

Rajaram Dhuri, secretary, Mumbai Fire Fighters Services Sena, said, “Withholding increment for two years is totally unfair. They are being penalised these huge amounts for taking a mere Rs 700.

A lot of people are involved and had the authorities given better quality clothes, the firemen wouldn’t have to take money and get the uniforms stitched themselves. Hence, the BMC should only give a verbal warning to the firemen and officers and close the matter.”

Chief speak
When mid-day spoke to Chief Fire Officer Sunil Nesarikar, who is one of the 1,260 employees held guilty, he said, “Taking money from the contractor instead of our uniforms isn’t a scam. When I started working with the BMC in 1988, the salaries were very less and I used to wear the uniforms given by the BMC.

However, the BMC used to appoint contractors on tender basis with lowest bidders from the L1 category (lowest category) winning the contracts. The clothes could never withstand fires, shrank after one wash and were made of poor-quality material.”

Nesarikar added that when salaries increased in 1994, he, along with other department employees, started taking money from the contractor in lieu of the poor-quality uniforms. He said he and the other employees would add money from their own pocket to the amount they would get from the contractor to get uniforms of better quality sewn.

“This was, thus, not corruption but a positive approach, which nobody is looking at. Had we received good quality uniforms from the BMC, there would be no question of taking money or getting the uniforms sewn on our own,” he added.

BMC speak
Ramesh Danane, Chief Enquiry Officer, said, “Every fireman or fire officer who has accepted in writing that they have accepted money from the contractor will be penalised according to the order issued by BMC.” Former Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte was unavailable for comment.

Did you know?
This year, the BMC gave firemen material from Raymond and money to get the uniforms stitched. mid-day had reported in March, however, that the firemen had complained that the money allotted was too little

Number crunching
Going by the increment of this year, which is Rs 1,500 a month for junior employees, they stand to lose Rs 1,500 X 12, which is Rs 18,000 a year. For two years, the figure would be Rs 36,000.

For senior employees, the increment has been Rs 3,000 a month. Hence they stand to lose Rs 3,000 X 12, which is Rs 36,000 a year and Rs 72,000 for two years.

Officials said these are the minimum figures as the increment amount increases every year and will be higher next year.

Sunil Nesarikar
Chief fire officer, who admitted to taking money from contractors

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