In one of the biggest project cost escalations in the civic body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) continues to pour taxpayers’ money down Mithi river, while steadfastly refusing to heed directives by senior civic officials, who termed the escalations ‘abnormal’.
Hindustan Times is in possession of copies of official documents, including the chief accountant’s (finance) note, vehemently opposing approval of variations to contractors and favouring fresh tenders. Even the municipal chief auditor had criticised the variations granted to contractors, and had strongly expressed his critique in an audit report in 2010.
While it was first proposed in 2007, the contract cost for deepening and widening the 11.8km stretch of Mithi was Rs246 crore. In May 2008, the BMC suddenly decided the river needed to be deepened according Central Water and Power Research Stations (CWPRS) guidelines. Then citing monsoon, BMC escalated the tender cost for all five contractors by 50%, taking the cost to Rs. 369 crore. While proposing variations, BMC said no variations would be allowed henceforth. But, reneging on its word, the BMC gave RPS Infra projects additional work of widening two bridges over Mithi for Rs. 24 crore, without inviting tenders. In 2010, BMC again invoked the monsoons and demanded an escalation. The reason? Three out of the five contractors had to achieve a depth of 0.5m to fit the CWPRS standards and needed more money.
MLC Charan Singh Sapra, who has been demanding an inquiry into the issue, said, “This is an issue of massive financial irregularities of hundreds of crores. The BMC needs to come clean on why it favoured a set of contractors even as its own officers demanded fresh tenders.”
Gautam Kirtane from the Observer research foundation, who has been studying the Mithi river said, “The BMC’s methods, to baseline the work needed on the river, were primitive. So, this leaves room for manipulation.” Additional municipal commissioner Aseem Gupta, in-charge of the project, said, “The money on Mithi has been well-spent. A lot of decisions had to be taken to ensure Mithi wasn’t flooding because of the monsoons.”
The then Standing Committee chairman Ravindra Waikar was unavailable for comment.