It’s no secret that the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus has kept the city’s roads pothole-ridden.(HT)
It’s no secret that the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus has kept the city’s roads pothole-ridden.(HT)

BMC polls: Will political parties make Mumbai’s roads better?

Political parties are sure to promise to improve the city’s streets, but here’s a reality check.
Hindustan Times | By Chetna Yerunkar
UPDATED ON JAN 17, 2017 01:40 PM IST

To further mangle the old proverb, Mumbai’s roads are hell on their users. And it’s not because there was no money to make them better. Now with another election upon us, again the political parties will promise to make our roads better. But will they?

It’s no secret that the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus has kept the city’s roads pothole-ridden, despite the thousands of crores spent on them.If there were any doubts about this, they were removed by the road scam that rocked the civic body last year. Cases were filed, contractors ,engineers and civic officers were arrested. The BMC for its part ordered an inquiry into the whole mess. The probe panel submitted a report to the municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta, but he returned it in October saying it was incomplete and incomprehensible. Now all await the redone report.

The scamsters’ methods are labyrinthine. The civic standing committee’s records of last four years show it had awarded road contracts of more than Rs4000 crore to six contractors, named in the FIR on the Rs352-crore road scam. These six allegedly run a cartel in the BMC for more than 12 years and apparently managed to keep reputable infrastructure companies away. This was allegedly done with the help of civic officials who put conditions for road work tenders.

Road work contracts for Rs.50 crore to 100 crores inevitably went to one of the six. Projects worth more than Rs.150 crore were awarded to joint ventures formed by these six.  So will blacklisting the six guarantee us good roads? Apparently not, as the detailed and revised inquiry report is likely to indict another 10 contractors and expose another Rs1000 crore scam.  These 10 can still bid for new contracts worth Rs800 crore, though the BMC has kept their payment for Rs959 crore pending in view of another inquiry into 200 road works in the city.

Additional Municipal Commissioner, Sanjay Deshmukh, said, “We have decided that payments will not be released of these contractors until the final outcome of the inquiry and the report is yet to be submitted to me.”

So when can we expect the probe report?. Not before the civic elections on February 21, is the view of BMC insiders. Independent experts and citizen’s groups agree, pointing out that only political will can end this problem. This being an ongoing inquiry, the civic administration can, if it wants, publicise the report even when the election code of conduct is in force, say BMC sources.

Whatever the political parties may say now with an eye on the elections, the fact remains that they were all in it together. The BJP which has been a partner in power in the BMC with the Sena for two decades put the entire blame on the Shiv Sena. The Sena said it was not guilty and pointed fingers at the administration. However, all the parties, including the opposition Congress, were together when the civic standing committee cleared various road proposals repeatedly bagged by the same set of contractors, over the past few years.

Citizen groups have questioned the delay in submitting the final probe report and the politicians’ will  to ensure quality road construction in the city. Nikhil Desai, a citizen activist, said,  “There is no reason for a report that was tabled in front of the civic chief in October last year to be delayed for over three months now. It is clear that because of the elections, political parties have pushed the road report even further.”

Following criticism by citizens over the roads scam, the civic administration  has come up with various reforms for transparency in awarding contracts and better monitoring of road works. Also more contractors are added to the break monopoly of the existing cartel. But will this help? Experts and citizen activists say political will is needed to follow the new rules and procedures strictly. Else, new loopholes will be found once the elections are over.


Bombay HC directs BMC, other stakeholders to hold a meeting this week on repairing potholes

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