WITH A preliminary inquiry concluding that there were irregularities in the way the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Solid Waste Management department overlooked lapses in the working of a garbage compacting contractor, senior civic officials suspect that similar lapses in supervision may have occurred in other contractors’ functioning.
After the detailed departmental inquiry ordered by Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta is completed, the BMC may extend the probe to include the working of three other refuse stations in the city. Based on a preliminary report, Mehta on Thursday ordered an exhaustive inquiry into why senior officials of the Solid Waste Management department had failed to detect significant discrepancies between the quantity of waste that a contractor appointed to compact garbage from a Mahalaxmi refuse station was compensated for and the quantity that appeared to have actually been compressed and transported.
Civic officials who conducted the inquiry said contractors at other refuse transfer sites in the city might have similarly benefited from officials’ neglect. Mehta said: “Depending on the seriousness of the findings of the departmental inquiry, at a later stage, the probe may be extended to other three refuse stations as well.” The preliminary inquiry report submitted to Mehta on June 5 revealed that officials of the SWM department, including chief engineers, deputy chief engineers and deputy municipal commissioners, between 2006 and 2017 may have colluded with the contractor appointed for compressing and transferring waste in Mahalaxmi.
The matter came to light when the contractor filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court in 2014 seeking a compensation of Rs 35.19 crore for various reasons, including idling of his equipment during the initial delay caused by the BMC. Figures of the monthly average revealed a difference of up to 40 per cent in the quantity of waste received at Mahalaxmi and the quantity transported after being compressed. Civic officials who conducted the probe said two of the engineers whose names have emerged have since retired. “The departmental inquiry will include all engineers who were involved with the work at the refuse transfer station at Mahalaxmi.
Depending on the extent of their involvement, while we will file criminal complaints against the retired officials, the current employees will face punishment ranging between criminal proceedings and termination of employment,” said a senior civic official. There are four refuse transfer stations in the city, including the one at Mahalaxmi that is mentioned in the preliminary inquiry report. The other three are in Gorai, Versova and Kurla where currently, garbage is only transferred to large containers before it is taken to the dumping grounds. The system, part of the modernisation process of compressing and transferring of waste, was part of a pilot project taken up first at Mahalaxmi.
It will be introduced at the other three stations as well pending clearance from the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority. While the two-year contract for the refuse station in Gorai will expire in October 2017, the ones for Kurla and Versova will expire next year. Pointing to other discrepancies, the report states that according to the norms, the contractor has to be compensated for a lesser quantity in terms of weight, if a minimum of 600 metric tonnes of waste is not provided by the BMC. However, according to records, in a period of 2,640 days, the BMC supplied a lesser quantity of waste than the minimum amount only in 95 days.
“The contractor has claimed that we were unable to provide the minimum amount of waste as mentioned in the tender. However, even if the contractor’s contention was to be accepted, it should have been restricted to these days only. On all other days, the BMC provided waste upto 1,000 metric tonnes,” said an official. Highlighting the fact that the contractor’s bills were accepted only on the basis of volume while ignoring the weight of the waste, the report recommended that the engineers be held responsible since their lackadaisical attitude helped the contractor in court as well.
The report also observed that even during arbitration, the case was never discussed with the additional municipal commissioner in charge of the department. The civic chief has instructed the new additional municipal commissioner, Vijay Singhal, to conduct the departmental inquiry. Civic officials said the inquiry will also examine the role of the contractor. “Apart from the engineers, the contractor’s possible role in the fraud will also be included in the inquiry. If there is evidence to prove the contractor’s involvement, then the company could be blacklisted. We will inform the court about the ongoing inquiry at the next hearing,” said the official.