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Standards lowered to meet low rates

Even as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) prepares its action plan to improve the condition of the roads, which will be presented to the Bombay high court (HC) next week, what needs to be seen is whether the civic body will change its way.

mumbai Updated: Aug 08, 2013 08:35 IST
Kunal Purohit

Even as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) prepares its action plan to improve the condition of the roads, which will be presented to the Bombay high court (HC) next week, what needs to be seen is whether the civic body will change its way.

In July, the HC had slammed the civic body and the state in a suo motu petition, asking authorities to explain six major issues concerning our roads. The crux of the order dealt with contractors quoting low rates and the way tenders were awarded.

As part of its ongoing coverage on bad state of roads, HT takes a look at how the system is conveniently exploited to benefit a few.

In the civic body, low quotations by contractors are an accepted way to win tenders.

In 2011, when the BMC appointed Swiss-based SGS India Private Ltd to audit the roads, the contractor lobby rushed to a senior official in protest.

These contractors had recently bagged contracts worth Rs550 crore, quoting anywhere between 15% and 25% less than the BMC's estimate of those works.

“The contractors admitted that if they had known an auditor would be appointed, they wouldn't have given such low quotes. It was a candid admission that contractors don't shy away from cutting corners to bag deals,” said an official.

For years now, civic roads contractors have been quoting rates around 15% to 17% lower than estimates, resulting in the pitiable state of roads.

For instance, in the past two months, more than 20,000 potholes have been reported on city roads.

In yet another instance, in April 2012 after the BMC floated tenders, 24 contractors were shortlisted to repair roads that had been dug up to lay utility cables.

These contractors submitted bids 19% to 45% lower than the estimate.

The audit carried out by the Swiss firm in December showed that 40 of the roads were dug up again in just seven months and were then repaired in a shoddy manner.

To add to this, the contractors spent the Rs120 crore allocated for repairs, which were to be used in two years, within eight months.

When cornered over the state of roads, the BMC officials and corporators are quick to shift the blame.

“Contractors keep bidding low rates and then cut corners while making roads. There have been many court orders that have specified that we have to appoint the lowest-bidder,” mayor Sunil Prabhu said recently.

But this isn’t the case.

The central vigilance commission guidelines permit civic bodies to bring the qualitycum-cost based tenders.

These tenders will allow the BMC to give more weightage to a contractor's technical qualification rather than his low rates.

But, despite its obvious advantages, the BMC has dithered over floating such tenders.