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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

‘Breaking contractor-official nexus my priority’ says Punjab PWD minister Vijay Inder Singla

PWD minister Vijay Inder Singla spoke to HT on a number of issues, including the reasons that are holding up the projects and corruption in the department.

punjab Updated: Oct 03, 2018 10:07 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab PWD minister Vijay Inder Singla
Punjab PWD minister Vijay Inder Singla (HT Photo)

Public works department (PWD) is the premier agency of the state government for construction and maintenance of roads, buildings and bridges in the state. PWD minister Vijay Inder Singla spoke to HT on a number of issues, including the reasons that are holding up the projects and corruption in the department. Excerpts:

What is your biggest achievement as the PWD minister?

The biggest achievement has been the Rs 500-crore Central Road Fund (CRF) sanctioned for the state roads. We could also get Rs 320 crore from National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). A proposal to get Rs 550 crore from NABARD for the year 2019-20 is ready. By the end of 2019, we will be able to repair all roads which are under the ambit of PWD.

It is said that PWD and corruption are synonyms. What are your plans to end this menace?

I don’t have any hesitation in admitting that corruption is a big concern in my department. The tradition of “commission” has spoiled our image. Let me be frank in admitting that I cannot end this in a year or two. Suspension of officials is also not a permanent solution. The real solution lies in bringing in new technologies for quality check and online payment gateways.

Are these baby steps enough to break the nexus between contractor and officials?

I have ordered financial audit of the works which are allotted on the rates less than rates mentioned in the tender. It has come to my notice that contractors are taking projects even at rates 30% less than the minimum cost mentioned in the tender. Even a layman can understand that to complete the project, the contractor will compromise with the quality. And if quality is compromised, such works cannot be passed without the collusion of field staff monitoring the project. Now, all such projects will have to be audited. What I mean is such baby steps will surely make a difference in the long run.

Work on four-laning of national highways is going on at a slow pace. What’s the reason?

PWD’s role in projects involving national highways is limited to monitoring only. I guess, the rainy season could have slowed down the work.

The Punjab stretch of Jalandhar-Panipat six-laning project is still incomplete. Why is it so?

The NHAI has given some fresh deadline to Soma-Isolux company which couldn’t complete the road in more than 10 years. Probably, the company has been given time till October 31 to complete the road. But let me tell you, if the company fails this deadline, my department will take stern action against it. Why should people pay the full toll charge when the road is not in shape.

Even the newly built roads are in poor shape after the recent rains. Why responsibility is not fixed?

The road in Patiala was built by Border Road Organisation (BRO). But that does not mean we are sparing our officials who were monitoring the project. Similar complaints came from Amritsar as well. I have asked DCs of Patiala and Amritsar to conduct a probe and submit report to me. Recently, I suspended officials in Abohar. We won’t spare anyone.

Traffic congestion has become a big issue especially in bigger cities of Punjab. Any plan to tackle this?

We are coming up with the ring road projects across all big cities of Punjab. The Centre is ready to fund us but for that 50% cost of the land acquisition will be borne by the state. Very soon we are rolling out this plan.