The six firms named in the road repairs scam, which have been accused of building poor-quality roads, may have swindled public money in another way too – by digging up roads that were in good condition to boost their profits.
Senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officials in the Mumbai police said a coterie of BMC officials, politicians and the six contractors not only duped the state by violating norms laid down to ensure good-quality roads, they went a step further by digging up roads that didn’t need repairs.
On Thursday, Ranjit Patil, minister of state for urban development, said in the legislative council that, if required, state government will transfer the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
In the first phase of its inquiry into the scam, which involves 251 roads, the BMC looked at 34 of them. In its police complaint, the civic claimed it suffered a loss of Rs 14 crore from the shoddy construction of these 34 roads.
But the police said the BMC’s figure is false. “The loss claimed by the BMC is not true when you actually look at the extent of the scam. If a road has to be built or given for repairs, one cannot build or repair just a portion of it. The entire road has to be constructed or repaired. So in this scam, the cost of building the entire road has to be taken into account,” said a senior investigator, who did not wish to be named. “When one considers the valuation of 34 roads, the loss goes well beyond Rs 350 crore,” added the officer.
The civic body has been asked to begin the second phase of its inquiry, which will involve the remaining 217 roads, and submit a report.
The scam was unearthed after the Mumbai police arrested third-party auditors who allegedly cleared shoddily built roads in exchange for money. “The contractor would violate norms when building or repairing roads, and get their shoddy work passed by these auditors,” said a senior investigating officer, who did not wish to be named.
To repair or rebuilt a good-quality road, a contractor must create eight layers using the correct mix of materials. However, it was found that the six contractors did not follow these norms and simply filled in potholes with bitumen, causing them to erode and potholes to reappear in no time, the officer added.
The police are also probing the extent of the scam within the BMC and role of certain prominent civic officials and politicians. So far, they have arrested only site engineers and auditors. On July 12, two of the contractors filed for anticipatory bail in the sessions court and were given interim protection from arrest.
BMC chief Ajoy Mehta had ordered an inquiry into the roads scam in October last year, after mayor Snehal Ambekar wrote to him, alleging corruption. In the first phase of its inquiry, involving 14 roads in south Mumbai, 11 in the western suburbs and nine in the eastern suburbs, the BMC unearthed huge irregularities in their repair and reconstruction. The foundations of many roads were not up to standard and the quality of repairs was shoddy. Taking note of these findings, Mehta earlier suspended two chief engineers and two-third party auditors, and initiated the process of blacklisted the six contractors. However, this process is yet to be completed.