Citing fears that the project to build the world’s tallest statue could run into financial and legal hurdles, the chairman of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial Project Implementation, Monitoring and Co-ordination Committee, Vinayak Mete, has written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis asking for a full-fledged inquiry into alleged irregularities in the project.
Mete, a legislator in the Upper House of the state legislature and president of Shiv Sangram, a Maratha organisation that has for over two years championed the project to build an equestrian statue of the warrior king in the Arabian Sea off Mumbai’s Marine Drive, has also threatened to move a breach of privilege motion in the Maharashtra Legislative Council if an inquiry is not ordered.
Documents obtained by The Indian Express under the Right to Information Act has revealed that Mete wrote a five-page letter to the CM on September 15. The letter, written in Marathi, elaborated on various apparent irregularities in the project. While claiming that the project is being pushed “unethically”, Mete has alleged that the “project consultant and contractor in collusion with officials in Mantralaya” committed various illegalities.
“It has come to the notice of my committee that since the last one-and-a-half years, the project is being pushed unethically by PWD officials in Mantralaya by taking decisions on their own, without giving information about some things to my committee and getting approvals of the High Power Committee without giving them proper information,” the letter stated. “On several occasions, I have told officials concerned orally and through letters (about this), and have made several suggestions. But decisions have been taken overlooking my suggestions. These will place the government in financial, legal and technical trouble in the future,” it added.
Mete has also listed some of these decisions, including the project not receiving approval from the technical committee appointed for the project. Further, he has questioned the negotiation exercise undertaken by the government with Larsen & Toubro, which submitted the lowest bid for the project.
He claimed that the negotiation, undertaken in order to bring down the total project cost from the bid of Rs 3,826 crore to the current projected cost of Rs 2,500 crore plus GST, was in fact nothing but alterations made to the original tender. The letter stated that changes made in the scope of the project, including reducing reclamation area and the height of the sea wall as well as reducing the height of the statue while increasing the length of the sword, among others, appear unscientific. “These do not have the approval of the government’s technical committee,” the letter added.
Questioning why the overall height was raised from 210 m to 212 m, the letter asked, “Who suggested it and what was the reason? My committee was not made aware of it.”
Mete’s letter alleged that the consultant and contractor, along with officials in Mantralaya, allowed various irregularities at the time of tendering and contract agreement. Despite him pointing these out, the work order to the contractor was hastily issued, he said. “Despite knowing that supporting the PMC and L&T will cause a loss to the government, the work order was issued hurriedly,” the letter stated.
While stating that not taking into account the recommendations of the divisional accountant while issuing the work order would create legal and financial hurdles in the future, the letter added that Fadnavis himself has been kept in the dark about changes made. The letter also alleged that senior officials in Mantralaya forced PWD engineers to sign the contract agreement and work order.
“An inquiry must be initiated against officials who behaved irresponsibly. Otherwise, I will have to move a breach of privilege motion against officials for ignoring my suggestions,” the letter added.
When contacted, Mete refused to comment. Officials in the CMO also did not respond to queries about Mete’s letter.
Earlier in the week, the Directorate General of Information and Public Relations (DGIPR) in Mantralaya had issued a statement in response to a report in The Indian Express and said that no irregularities have been noticed in the project. Conceding that the changes in design would now be vetted by IIT-Bombay after the contractor finalises its engineering designs, the note issued by DGIPR had said: “The project is undertaken as per the contract agreement and no irregularities have been noticed.”
The cost optimisation measures were presented to the High Power Steering Committee headed by the CM, it said. “During the cost optimisation no compromise has been made with respect to the height of the memorial,” the note added.