An inquiry is on against top engineers among other officials in the Punjab water supply and sanitation department in a tubewell-filter scam that since 2012 has cost the state Rs 10 crore.
The engineers allegedly made the state buy the filters for about Rs 15,000 each, when Haryana had paid only Rs 5,840 for the same-specification product. The purchase also violated the World Bank guidelines for the project, finding about which, Punjab water supply and sanitation department principal secretary Suresh Kumar marked this inquiry.
A single company, Johnson Stainless Steel Strainer, supplied the filters to the water supply department for the World Bank project since 2012 of installing tubewells. The 600 tubewells installed in Punjab over the past three years gave the company a benefit of about Rs 10 crore. “Awarding contract to a single firm was violation of the World Bank guidelines,” said principal secretary Kumar, adding that the department had asked the World Bank programme director, retired chief engineer SR Aggarwal, to look into how the purchase had been authorised.
Marking an inquiry on April 27, Kumar had said that he had got to know about this practice of promoting a single brand when he had joined the department in 2012. He had then issued written orders against this.
Caught on tape
That the officials pushed a certain brand is evident in a recorded conversation of chief engineer (south) AK Soni (HT and principal secretary have a copy each). Soni can be heard on the tape threatening SAS Nagar contractor Gurkirpal Singh to use only Johnson filters, and saying that an executive engineer who recommended Super brand of filters would be chargesheeted.
Chief engineer puts onus on past secy
Asked to react, Soni said that in 2012, the-then principal secretary, Sanjay Kumar, had asked him to issue guidelines for using only Johnson filters. “I only followed his orders in telling the contractors to follow the directions.” Asked to clarify, Sanjay Kumar declined to comment.
We kept giving representations to the department against the order but it took no action,” said a contractor, on the condition of anonymity, alleging that officials were hand-in-glove with the benefiting company. “Contractors who used other filters were either debarred or blacklisted,” he added, demanding that the case be moved to the vigilance bureau.
He alleged similar scams in the purchase of PVC pipes, chlorinator pumps, and submersible motors as well, adding: “It might be a Rs 100-crore rip-off.”
Pipes also overpriced?
On March 18, chief engineer (south) AK Soni issued a letter to the contractors, saying premium-brand and ISI-marked PVC pipes were to be treated as equivalent in quality. Before the directive, the department had been paying 25 to 30% more for pipes categorised as premium-make, to favour select manufacturers.