A careless attitude, poor planning and bad execution of the Mithi river revival project by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have cost the city’s taxpayers hundreds of crores.
The BMC has admitted that it gave contractors the go-ahead to deepen the river and excavate rock without conducting a geological survey of the river bed. As reported in HT’s July 7 edition, contracts were escalated by more than Rs200 crore — for which tenders were not invited — to excavate hard rock from the river bed, which was not part of the initial plan.
“Ideally, we should have done a study before handing out the additional work. But the BMC was under tremendous pressure to ensure that the city does not flood again [after the July 26, 2005 deluge] and the Mithi was not deep enough,” said Aseem Gupta, additional municipal commissioner.
In March 2007, the BMC had awarded contracts to five contractors for a total of Rs 246 crore to widen the river, build retaining walls and deepen the river up to the soft rock level. A year into the contract, the BMC decided that the depth would have to be increased up to 1.5 metres, which was the standard set by the Central Water and Power Research Station. This would mean excavating the river bed beyond the soft rock.
“As we had been deepening the river, we were told to deepen it further to meet CWPRS standards. It was after the contract was varied that a study was conducted,” said a contractor, requesting anonymity.
Experts reckon that if a study had been conducted, the exact quantum of work would have been known and tenders could have been floated for fixed amount of work rather than what has now happened.
This negligence has cost the city a substantial chunk of the Rs 498 crore that has already been spent on the project. The BMC used the same set of contractors who had originally been given the deepening and desilting work, who escalated their cost and charged the BMC much higher rates than what had been agreed on in the original contract.
As pointed out by the BMC’s chief accountant (finance), this decision to alter existing contracts and hand out additional work without issuing tenders has resulted in severe financial loss. While the original contract paid the contractors by 2005 rates, they were paid for excavation of rocks as per the 2007-2008 rates, which were significantly higher.
The contractors also had a free run, with the BMC conducting no significant checks on what’s happening.
Geologist V Subramanyan, former professor at IIT, criticised the BMC’s approach. “They did not consult any geologists when they planned this project, or their approach would have been different. They should have conducted preliminary investigations to determine the soil and rock profile before handing out contracts to excavate it.”
Activists: Mithi revival project is a scandal
MUMBAI: City-based activists and environmentalists condemn the civic body for the financial irregularities reported in its ambitious Mithi revival project.
On Saturday, HT had reported about the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) plan to spend an additional Rs300 crore on the project, which will raise the overall cost of the project from the estimated Rs246 crore (in 2007) to a whopping Rs800 crore.
Activists said the BMC has been negligent by failing to conduct an in-depth study before initiating the project. “What started as a mere desilting project has now assumed the form of a corruption scandal,” said RTI activist Anil Galgali, of non-government organisation Athak Seva Sangh. “How can they begin excavating rocks five years after the project began? All the money that will be invested into the project will be unaccounted for in the near future.”
“Investing such a huge amount of the taxpayers’ money on this project is a double blow as not only are we violating the laws of the land, but also hampering the ecological balance,” said Janak Daftari of Mithi Nadi Sansad. “The project should have been completed by now.”
While floating tenders in 2007, the BMC did not mention the presence of rocks in the river bed, but additional funds have been used allegedly to excavate hard rocks.
“By excavating the rocks, we will be playing with the natural course of the Mithi river. Spending crores of money to carry out a structural encroachment should be illegal,” said Jagdish Gandhi, environment activist.