The civic body will be spending Rs550 crore of taxpayers’ money on constructing 50 km of new roads in the city, but that’s no guarantee that you will be able to enjoy a smooth, pothole-free ride.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has shortlisted nine firms for the construction of the new roads at rates that are 15% to 25% lower than its own estimated cost of construction on Monday.
The contractors were shortlisted on the basis of the lowest bids, the BMC’s usual practice. The contract will be awarded in a month’s time. That the cost estimate of the bidders is lower than the BMC’s is a problem, said experts, raising concerns about the quality of work that allows for such low expenditure.
“If they are quoting such low bids, unless they indulge in malpractices, it is impossible for them to carry out the work,” said Nandkumar Salvi, former BMC chief engineer and member of the court-appointed road monitoring committee.
Officials in charge, however, don’t see anything wrong with the policy of settling for the lowest bid. “We have an existing mechanism where if the bidder quotes more than 12% below the estimated cost, we charge a hefty bank guarantee, which can be forfeited,” said Aseem Gupta, additional municipal commissioner (roads). “The contractors have bid so low themselves — 15% to 25% below our estimated cost — so the onus will be on them to deliver. But as the bids are this low, our responsibility as the supervising authority also increases.”
The consequence of such bids is there for all to see and experience: The BMC’s latest survey has identified 616 locations that have potholes, all of which are on roads built in the past three to five years and come under the defect liability (warranty) period.
Since July 20, Hindustan Times has been publishing reports on the pathetic state of Mumbai’s roads, especially in the monsoon, and the need for better construction and maintenance of roads.
The problem, BMC officials said, is when the bid is more than 15% below the civic cost estimate. “A contractor will never make a loss. So no matter what they quote, they will make profit, for which they will cut costs,” said a city-based contractor, on condition of anonymity.
The BMC’s policy of choosing the lowest bids may make sound economic sense, but it encourages contractors to cut corners and gives the city a bad deal, officials said.
There should be a cap on the lowest bids, recommend retired BMC officials. “Considering all the other ‘payments’ they have to make, the contractors will end up spending much less on the actual construction. It will affect the quality of construction,” said a top civic official, on condition of anonymity.
A senior civic official admitted that such low bids came as a surprise. “Looking at the market scenario, we had expected bids at 10% to 12% below our estimated cost. Any bid lower than that was surprising to us too,” the official said, requesting anonymity.