The watchful eyes of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) did not cease to scrutinise the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway project after its first report in 2008. The watchdog went on to vet the replies of the government tendered in an action taken report (ATR) produced in Parliament in 2012.
The Parliamentary committee on public undertakings, which looked into government’s replies and CAG’s scrutiny of the same, yet again found the official responses to be another exercise in passing the buck to other agencies.
The scrutiny began in 2009 with the deficient detailed project report (DPR) that had failed to account essential provisions for pedestrians and for having failed to follow established guidelines like that of the International Road Congress (IRC).
The committee, which in 2008 had recommended that responsibility be fixed on the DPR consultant for its failure to take into account many critical things resulting in subsequent change in scope of work, was surprised by the way the ministry of road transport and highway initially reacted.
“To the sheer astonishment of the committee, the ministry in its initial action taken replies maintained that there was no deficiency on the part of DPR consultant M/s RITES,” noted the MPs panel.
The ministry had once again argued that change in scope of work, which had lead to an increase in the project cost by 21%, was necessitated by rapid development in Delhi and Haryana along the project highway and requested by respective governments.
The ministry then went on to blame the Haryana government, saying the project was regularly reviewed by Haryana authorities at Chandigarh and they were “kept apprised of the progress as also issues/problems affecting the project”.
“The issue of pedestrian over-bridges in Haryana was raised only towards the end of 2006 when a few accidents occurred on this road,” said the ministry, adding that the Haryana government officials discussed other things prior to that.
The ministry tried its best to shift the blame to other agencies.
“From the old records available, it transpired that the high-level committee comprising representatives from various departments such as DUAC, Huda, NCRPB, DDA, AAI,DVB, MTNL, GAIL, DJB, PWD, was interacting with NHAI/RITES during preparation of the DPR. However, even after consultation, certain changes in design were felt,” said the ministry.
It argued that the height of underpasses had been kept at 3.5 metres, against the IRC norm of 5.5 metres as “the entire section of Delhi-Gurgaon project is not an urban area. However, due to subsequent rapid industrial development of the area and to facilitate crossing of heavy commercial vehicles, the height of the underpass was to be increased”.
“Therefore, there is no deficiency on part of DPR consultant RITES (a government of India undertaking, ministry of railways) on this account,” the ministry had concluded.
The CAG shredded these frail arguments once again.
It pointed out that the DPR was assigned to RITEs in June 1997 and was approved in 2001, but the work was executed only during 2003-04 after a delay of three years.
The CAG also noted that the NHAI did not meet out even the ministry specification in the concession agreement regarding the height of the underpass.
It was only after being pressed hard by Parliament as well as the watchdog that the ministry submitted that a show-cause notice would be served to RITEs on taking deterrent action for the deficiencies in DPR.
Even after being pulled up in such an ignominious way, the ministry chose to dilly-dally on the issue.
The office of the CAG asked for a copy of the show-cause notice on July 11, 2011, but it was not furnished even in April 2012.
The MPs panel made a scathing remark in the conclusion to the issue in its report.
“The committee deprecates this attitude of the ministry and they consider this reply as interim in nature. The committee, therefore, desire that the matter to fix responsibility against DPR consultants should be pursued in the right earnest in a time-bound manner.”