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Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Chandigarh: Crores you paid in taxes go down the drain in name of consultancy

UT engineering wing hired consultants for works like installation of air conditioners and kitchen exhausts; senior official says they want consultancy because their dept is ‘only meant for execution’

Written by Hina Rohtaki | Chandigarh | Published: January 28, 2020 1:46:04 pm
Chandigarh: Crores you paid in taxes go down the drain in name of consultancy The UT Engineering wing, for instance, employed a consultant for augmenting the existing firefighting system in Punjab and Haryana High Court, and paid Rs 1.06 lakh for the small ‘advice’. (Express Photo)

The UT engineering department has frittered away crores on hiring consultants for even the most mundane of works, according to data obtained by The Indian Express under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Works for which consultants were hired include installation of air conditioners and kitchen exhausts — which can be executed by experienced engineers of the department.

The Indian Express filed a Right to Information (RTI) application, in the name of this correspondent’s father, on December 19, 2019, seeking names of consultants hired for different types of works by the department in the last seven years.

For about a month, the application moved from branch to branch of the engineering wing. The applicant was flooded with over 33 letters only about transferring the RTI application from one department to another — from CPIO and executive engineer to SDO.

After 40 days, only three sub-divisions submitted replies on 40 works for which they hired consultants. The information provided was not complete in some cases. The remaining 54 sub-divisions have not submitted any reply. The department has over 240 engineers.

Hot and cold

Sub-division No. 7 (W/S) hired the services of consultants 18 times, while PH division no. 8 sought the advice of consultants 12 times in the last seven years.

The UT Engineering wing, for instance, employed a consultant for augmenting the existing firefighting system in Punjab and Haryana High Court, and paid Rs 1.06 lakh for the small ‘advice’. This despite having a fire department whose staff inspects other buildings and tells them what is needed as per latest National Building Code(NBC).

But regardless of their in-house experts, the engineering wing paid Rs 70,000 to a Delhi-based firm for advice on installing a firefighting system at Panchayat Bhawan in Sector 18. In the model Burail jail, it sought out a Ludhiana-based firm to help them in this field. Another Delhi-based firm was given Rs 58,800 for suggesting a fire-fighting system for the proposed administrative block in Government Multi Specialty Hospital, Sector 16.

The engineers also sought consultancy for installing air conditioners as well despite reputed institutes like PEC and NITTTR, which have experts who would have readily dispensed their advice without charging a paisa.

But UT paid Rs 60,000 to M/s Dynamic HVAC consultant to find out which air conditioners would work the best in officers’ rooms above court rooms number 1 to 9 in the HC. It was ditto at the Secretariat where an air conditioning consultant was hired for Rs 1.34 lakh.

Government Medical College and hospital (GMCH) Sector 32, saw five consultancies, all for air conditioning. Most recently on November 5 last year, a firm was hired to provide consultancy for ‘kitchen exhaust’ and other ventilation system for Rs 44,250. Work on it is in progress.

The Block A came in for particular attention with the UT engineers requisitioning the services of M/s Ambience Limited at least thrice for over 1.5 lakh.

Ambience was clearly a favourite for hospital-related works, for not only was it hired to suggest air conditioning at the mental health institute in Sector 32 and at Paryavaran Bhawan, for Rs 61,500 and Rs 33,000, respectively, its advice was also sought for a firefighting system in Sector 48 hospital, that too twice for almost 77,000.

The company also provided expert advice on AC work both in Sector 48 hospital and the district court complex as well.

Dynamic HVAC consultants was a close second and was also requisitioned several times though even after two years of their expert advise, work is still ‘in progress’.
These consultants were employed by just one sub-unit of an engineering division. Though Sub-division No 3 provided incomplete information, it was clear that it had also employed a small army of seven consultants.

‘What is the need for in-house engineers?’

Several experts have question the rationale behind hiring private experts.

“Engineers are suppose to be experts in their fields. A mechanical engineer is supposed to visit the spot and figure out where the ACs or kitchen exhausts have to be installed and then send their comments. But they have made this a money minting business,’’ Pallav Mukherjee, former councillor and an architect, said.

Mukherjee said the Tribune flyover, for which a consultant was paid crores, is the most glaring example of the “colossal waste of public funds”.

He alleged that the engineering wing hires a consultant for everything, from designing the beams and slabs of a building to fashioning the goal post for a football field, or a badminton court. “The consultants are used in two ways — first, to route the funds, and second, to take the flak if something goes wrong,” he added.

A former chief engineer of UT engineering wing observed that engineers in the electrical division are competent to give their comments for air conditioning systems. “If private consultants have to do everything, what is the need for in-house engineers,” he asked.

Retired Engineer-in-Chief with Himachal Pradesh government, Ravinder Nath Sharma said consultants are hired for “big projects” and not the “minor ones”.

‘Has been going on from the beginning’

Mukesh Anand, special secretary, engineering department, said he was not aware of this and would inquire with his staff.

Superintending Engineer Rajinder Singh said, “Ye to shuru se chalta aa raha hai…AC ya exhaust ya fire fighting lagane k liye k liye consultancy to chaeye hoti hai…kyunki humara wing sirf execution k liye hai…jaise hamare pass civil engineer hain…par civil ke kaamo k liye bhi consultancy shuru se hi bahar se hi lete aa rahe hain. Drawings or baaki sab bana dete hain wo log (This has been happening from the very beginning. Be it installing AC or exhaust or fire fighting, we do want consultancy because our wing is meant only for execution. We have civil engineers as well but we still take consultancy from outside for civil works. They make drawings and do other works for us).”

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