MUNICIPAL Commissioner Ajoy Mehta has ordered a departmental inquiry against senior officials of the Solid Waste Management department of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) after a preliminary inquiry report submitted this week indicated that officials might have colluded with a contractor appointed for compressing and transferring garbage by overlooking substantial discrepancies in bills submitted by the contractor.
The allegations of corruption in the Solid Waste Management department come just months after the civic body conceded that there had been serious irregularities in road repairs and drain-cleaning contracts.
The preliminary inquiry report says civic officials failed to detect significant discrepancies between the quantity of waste the contractor was compensated for and the quantity that appeared to have actually been compressed and transported.
“Prima facie, it seems that the officials of the SWM department have connived with the contractor. The responsibility of those who were involved has to be fixed and a detailed inquiry will be carried out,” he told The Indian Express.
The matter dates back to 2006 when the contractor was awarded a 10-year contract to compress and transfer garbage from a refuse transfer station in Mahalaxmi to the BMC’s dumping grounds.
The contractor, however, faced a long delay before he could start work — a drainage project undertaken in Mahalaxmi in 2008 prevented access to the site till June 2009. So though the contractor installed equipment at the Mahalaxmi site in December 2007, he actually worked between June 18, 2009 and May 8, 2017.
Before he could use the Mahalaxmi site, he was allowed to take garbage to a site in Worli and then transport the same to the dumping grounds.
The inquiry has now found that the quantity of compacted garbage that was transported varied from day-to-day in comparison with the quantity of garbage received on those days. The report says: “It is nowhere mentioned in the agreement that the weight will be reduced on compression.”
Moreover, the quantity of waste received at Mahalaxmi and the quantity transported after being compressed varied between 33 to 40 per cent in weight.
While a detailed inquiry is yet to be taken up, the preliminary report implicates the deputy chief engineer, chief engineer and the deputy municipal commissioner of the solid waste management department. Holding the SWM department responsible, the report says officials never asked the contractor about the discrepancies.
“There is a major lacunae in the system as none of the officials who accepted and sanctioned the bills ever asked the contractor how the remaining quantity of the waste was disposed of, nor raised it at the time of the arbitration. Instead they have overlooked such errors and paid the contractor as per the bills raised by him,” said a senior civic official privy to the inquiry.
When department officials were questioned about the discrepancy in weight, they tried to attribute the difference to generation of leachate, the toxic liquid component of waste.
“But there is no record of these thousands of litres of leachate that would have been generated if that were the case,” said the official.
The inquiry might never have been initiated had it not been for the contractor filing a writ petition in the Bombay High Court in 2014 seeking compensation for, among other things, the idling of his equipment during the initial delay, a sum of Rs 35.19 crore.
The court appointed an arbitrator who, in 2015, ruled in favour of the contractor and asked the BMC to pay compensation of Rs 35.19 crore. Challenging the arbitrator’s order, the BMC filed an appeal before the High Court, which upheld the arbitrator’s decision.
The BMC filed a review petition in April 2017, which is still pending, with the commissioner simultaneously ordering the preliminary inquiry.
After studying the findings of the report, Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta has ordered a detailed departmental inquiry against the SWM department officials.
Mehta added that many of the observations made in the inquiry report had not been presented before the court. “We will also bring out the discrepancies before the court that were not presented in previous hearings,” he said.