In a first, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has cracked down on errant contractors who bag contracts at low rates and then cut corners. The civic body has now scrapped contracts worth Rs 350 crore meant to be handed over to seven contractors, who had bid to fill trenches dug up on the city’s roads.
This total cost of filling trenches has been hiked from Rs 120 crore in 2012 to three times its cost — Rs 350 crore.
Poor filling of trenches has been one of the biggest reasons behind the terrible quality of roads in the city. Often, good-quality, freshly laid roads are dug up by utility companies and are reinstated very poorly, causing severe damage to the road. An internal audit in 2013 by a BMC-appointed Swiss-based auditor, SGS India Private Ltd, revealed how freshly-laid roads worth Rs 550 crore were damaged by poor filling of these trenches.
After the civic body invited bids, it found that short-listed contractors had bid as low as between 55% and 60% below the BMC’s estimate. This meant that if the BMC had estimated the cost of the work to be Rs100, the contractors estimated they could carry it out anywhere between Rs 40 to Rs 45.
These rates are much lower than the rates quoted by the contractors appointed last year as well. Along with the rates, the civic body also suspects the contractors pre-decided and ‘fixed’ the bidding of these contracts so that only a select a few of them bag these contracts. The reason behind this suspicion is the strikingly similar bids it received — three of the seven contractors have quoted the exact same rate — 59.99%.
Confirming the action, additional municipal commissioner SVR Srinivas said, “We have decided to cancel the tenders because of the abysmally low rates. We will invite fresh bids now so that the trench-filling work is not affected.”
One of the short-listed contractors, not wishing to be named, said, “The BMC’s estimates are on the higher side and are inflated as well. Our rates are more practical.”
However, civic officials admitted the quality of the work will be compromised because of these rates, possibly because of poor supervision by civic body officials. “The sheer number of trenches dug by various agencies makes it very difficult for us to supervise each of it. The contractors know they can get away with shoddy work,” said an engineer from the roads department.
This isn’t the first time that the trench-filling in the city has been in the news. In April 2012, the BMC allotted Rs120 crore to 24 contractors to fill trenches over two years. However, contractors used up by this money in eight months itself, after which the BMC scrapped the contracts.