DESPITE the Bombay High Court’s stay order on the BMC’s decision to blacklist and subsequently book the 32 contractors implicated in the Rs 150-crore desilting scam, the civic administration maintains that the contractors were rightfully blacklisted. Following the court’s rap, civic commissioner Ajoy Mehta has ordered a probe that is expected to pin the blame on civic officials responsible for not representing the administration’s side correctly before the court. Sources in the BMC said that senior officials in the BMC’s legal department might even face some penal action in the matter.
Mehta had ordered blacklisting of 24 contractors awarded drain cleaning contracts on December 10, after a high-level probe found them guilty of submitting fake records to allegedly inflate the cost of drain cleaning work. The contractors approached the High Court against this order arguing that they had not been granted ‘an opportunity of being heard’ before being blacklisted. On December 22, the HC said that the BMC’s order appeared “prima facie illegal” and that no action can be taken on the basis of this order.
The BMC however mantains that the inquiry against the contractors was conducted in a transparent fashion and that the contractors had been given a fair trial. “At every stage, we had asked the contractors to produce their records. The decision to blacklist them was taken only after confirming that there were anomalies in the records submitted by them. How can they then say that they hadn’t been given a hearing? We will submit our side of the story at the next hearing,” said a senior official.
The legal department in the BMC is now under the scanner for the fiasco. Senior civic officials, who wished not to be named, stated that apart from the officials who conducted the enquiry into the scam, the deputy law officer of the legal department was in-charge of the case. “Aruna Savla, the deputy law officer, was handling the case. We didn’t even come to know when the hearings were conducted and neither were we told about the court order. We only found out about it from the media,” the official added. He added that the lawyer representing the BMC had failed to adequately represent the BMC’s findings against the corporators in court. When contacted, Aruna Savla confirmed that she indeed was handling the case but did not wish to comment on it.
Corporators from Shiv Sena, Congress, MNS and Samajwadi Party had earlier opposed the manner in which the inquiry was conducted and had alleged ulterior motives. While SP corporator Rais Shaikh had called the scam to be a failure of the pre-audit system within the corporation and had pointed out that the corporators as well as the suspended engineers had not been given ‘natural justice’, Sena corporator Kishori Pednekar had stated that the inquiry was just for show and merely papers had been moved.
MNS corporator Sandeep Deshpande had questioned why the loopholes in the tenders had not been pointed out earlier. He also questioned the confidentiality of the inquiry report which was leaked to the media.
Promising stern action following an inquiry, municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta said, “We will honour the High Court’s order. But we will be conducting an inquiry on Monday, and by the end of the day, we will know whose fault this was.”
The bench, comprising Justice G S Patel and Justice A S Oka has given the BMC time till January 15 to file an affidavit in response.