If the Mithi river overflows again this monsoon and floods low-lying areas in the city, blame it all on a project that’s guzzling public money. Questions are being raised over taxpayers’ money worth Rs. 800 crore being spent by the BMC on the river-widening project, which has seen cost escalations in excess of 100% and remains incomplete.
The BMC is now quoting an IIT team’s report to justify the expenditure which has flouted all norms.
The civic body had in 2007 appointed five contractors for widening and deepening Mithi and building a retaining wall along its 11.8-km stretch, for Rs. 246 crore (the MMRDA looks after the other 6-km stretch of the river). In May 2008, the cost of the tenders went up to Rs. 369 crore after the contractors demanded additional amounts for removal of hard basalt rocks, which they claimed to have found in the river bed. Fresh tenders were not invited for this work.
The BMC then asked one of the contractors, RPS Infra projects, to widen two bridges on the river, again without inviting tenders, thus taking the contract — which was originally only about desilting — up from Rs. 72 crore to Rs. 128.44 crore.
In January 2010, two more variations (cost escalations) were approved, raising the project cost to Rs. 498 crore. Thus, work worth Rs. 252 crore was allotted without floating tenders.
BMC now wants to spend Rs. 300 crore more to complete the work. According to BMC guidelines, cost escalations in excess of 50% are not allowed. The chief accountant (finance), too, had opposed the increases, but all variations were approved by the civic standing committee.
Further, the BMC got a report prepared by an IIT team confirming presence of hard rocks in the river bed, which is being seen as an attempt to give a clean chit to officials and contractors.
The IIT report was commissioned after legislator Charan Singh Sapra alleged contractors were excavating rocks and claiming payment even though there were no rocks. Additional civic commissioner Aseem Gupta, said, “The work is there for all to see it. The money was well-spent.”