Three years after an inquiry was ordered into the Rs 95-crore scam in the sewerage department of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the report has nailed five engineers. It has, however, let off other officials alleged to have been involved, owing to the absence of documentary evidence against them.
Civic officials said a full-fledged departmental inquiry was ordered into the scam in November 2012 against 12 engineers of the sewerage operations (SO) department. Former deputy municipal commissioner M M Kamble, who headed the civic body’s vigilance department, led the probe and recently submitted a report.
The inquiry was ordered after the civic body came across several instances of contractors submitting bogus bills, showing work on sewer lines, manholes and civil repair works to claim money. An initial inquiry revealed that 32 contractors were involved, who allegedly demanded a payment of Rs 94.64 crore for 3,702 works carried out between 2005 and 2009. However, a civic official raised a red flag before the payments were actually made, and stalled all the payments.
The five engineers indicted in the report, all associated with the sewerage operations department then, have been handed out punishments ranging from stopping of future increment for two years, reduction in pay by one stage and imposing of other penalties.
The civic body could not take any action against four other engineers who had retired from municipal service when the chargesheet was issued in December 2012. The inquiry has cited the municipal pension rules, which say that inquiry proceedings cannot be instituted after retirement in respect of an event that took place more than four years ago.
Other engineers whose names figured in the scam were exonerated as the probe report said they were not handling the works.
The inquiry has pointed out that crucial documents such as sanction papers, registers, photographs of works, work completion reports had gone missing and were not produced by almost all the engineers. “Since the documents were missing, we had to go ahead with whatever charges were levelled against them… Had the documents been available with us, it could have unravelled and nailed many people and could have increased its gravity. So, in absence of the documents, we could not proceed further. It could possibly have also exposed the politicians role as well,” said an official involved in the inquiry.
The official added that all these engineers could have been charged with cheating and forgery if the documents were made available. Though the payments were not made in all the cases, it clearly showed the nexus of sewage operation officials and contractors in submitting the bills for the works that was never actually carried out. “It exposed the cartel of contractors, in connivance with the officials from the sewage operation department, manipulated the BMC’s books to accommodate the fraudulent claims. Then, all the documents went missing, which is shocking. The responsibility must be fixed in the case of missing documents and harshest punishment must be given to send out a message that officials cannot get away with an inquiry if documents go missing,” said the official.
The Anti-Corruption Bureau is also learnt to have been investigating the case, having taken a suo motu cognisance of the scam. A former mayor was also questioned in connection with the scam.