Akshay Doegar, the absconding hotelier-and-contractor against whom an FIR has been registered in connection with the jaundice outbreak in Shimla, was arrested Friday.
The jaundice has claimed seven lives so far. The contractor was running the sewage treatment plant (STP) that was found to be discharging untreated sewage directly to drinking water source (Ashwani Khad). The contractor was arrested soon after the high court rejected his anticipatory bail plea and directed him to join the investigation.
The superintendent of police, D W Negi, had laid a trap to nab Doegar after investigations by a Special Investigation Team.
After arresting Doegar from outside the high court, Negi escorted him to Dhalli police station for custodial interrogation, along with two other Irrigation and Public Health department (IPH) officials, including a junior engineer, accused in the case, who were arrested last week.
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Asked about the sections invoked against the contractor, Negi said: “The list is elaborate. Some new charges will also be included. He was being paid Rs 1.5 crore per annum by the government to run STPs in the town scientifically. Of which, he used to spent Rs 40 lakh on the plants and pocket rest of the money. Probe has revealed that there has been lapses in the functioning of the plants and raw sewage was being drained into the stream, which is the source of drinking water for Shimla and Solan.”
The SP said: “Now, the investigation will see a major progress. Tomorrow (Saturday), I have summoned the IPH chief engineer, who has made a statement in the newspapers giving a clean chit to contractor.”
He denied any pressure on the police to slow down the investigation. Its on the right track, Negi said.
Negi reached the high court along with his team and waited for the orders to arrest Doegar.
The IPH department also moved papers to cancel the contract of Doegar for running all the six STPs in Shimla. “We have decided to invite fresh tenders and improve the system at all the plants. Mumbai-based company, which had set up Malayana plant, has also been summoned,” said R M Mukul, IPH chief engineer.
Mukul said till the new arrangement is made to run the STPs in a better way, status quo has to be maintained. The IPH officers will keep an eye on the STPs.
Since jaundice case has also been reported from Solan, the local municipal corporation has decided not to take water from Ashwani Khad. “We have an alternative source – Giri river. We have not taken any water from Ashwani Khad,” said a senior official of Solan MC.
The Indian Express team had visited the Malayana plant on Thursday and noted serious lapses on the part of the contractor, the IPH department and HP Pollution Control Board (PCB), which failed to monitor the functioning and operation of the STP.
“The PCB is very much guilty. I doubt that they ever visited the plant,” Shimla Mayor Sanjay Chauhan said. Deputy Mayor Tikender Panwar filed an FIR in the case.