TERMING the move to award fresh contracts for bridge and road-related works to contractors already tainted in the roads scam ‘manifestly arbitary, illegal and irrational’, the Bombay High Court Tuesday stayed these contracts.
These include one for the reconstruction of the key Hancock Bridge near Sandhurst Road station. The court observed that these contracts had been awarded with a view to defeat public interest.
“The hurried steps for the award of contracts has been taken as if heaven were going to fall. The decision taken by the civic body in our considered view is intended to favour the contractors. In the circumstances, the same is undoubtedly arbitrary, unreasonable. Therefore when illegality, arbitrariness and favoritism is apparent on the face of record, we have no option but to allow this petition and quash the decision,” said the High Court.
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A division bench of Justice Shantanu Kemkar and Justice M S Karnik was hearing a public interest litigation questioning an award of fresh contract for bridge and road-related works to tainted contractors. The contracts were mostly for four bridges, including the Hancock Bridge.
The Standing Committee of the BMC had on May 4 given contracts to two contractors to build the Hancock Bridge in Byculla, a bridge across the Lokhandwala creek in Andheri, a bridge across the Mithi river in BKC and a railway crossing bridge at Vikhroli. The contracts were passed despite the municipal commissioner’s orders to blacklist the companies as per law on April 25.
The court also observed that it shocked their conscience that BMC was fully aware of the preliminary enquiry and the decision of the civic chief to initiate blacklisting and criminal action, but the decision to award the contract was taken immediately before a decision to suspend the registration.
“We are satisfied that larger public interest required that before actually awarding the contract, the BMC should have waited for action of issuance of show cause notice for blacklisting or at least the decision of suspension of registration instead of hurriedly awarding the contract to both the contractors projecting public interest,” said M S Karnik in the judgment.
“We are pained by the thought of such important and urgent public works getting further delayed inconveniencing the public at large, however, we cannot allow the action of the Brihanmumbai Muncipal Corporation to stand at the cost of larger public interest,”said the High Court.
The court pointed out that the BMC had taken all steps in the right direction while ordering inquiry right upto the initiation of criminal action and blacklisting, but by delaying the suspension of registration had virtually allowed the contractors to “walk away with these contracts.”
The BMC during arguments had argued that the two contractors could not have been debarred from participating in the tender process as on on the date of issuance of work order, there was no order of blacklisting. Moreover, it argued, these works were of utmost importance and any delay would cause great hardship and inconvenience to the public at large.