-By our New Delhi Correspondent/ 18 July 2009
The public statement, made by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), yesterday, has sent tremors in the political circles by exposing the whole deal of the 450 billion project of metro rail in Delhi, as a virtual scam, through and through.
The statement has come on the heels of the terrible tragedy, second in the last eight months, which had struck at the Delhi Metro railway construction site on July 12, killing five workers, and a site engineer on the spot, and leaving over 15 injured.
The tragedy occurred around 5 a.m. when over 30 employees of contractor Gammon India Limited were at work, at the elevated Central Secretariat-Badarpur line, near Lady Sriram College in Lajpat Nagar at Jamrudpur, South Delhi, when a huge launching girder came crashing down at the site.
As the sixth segment was being placed on the stretch between pillars No. 67 and 68, the launching girder along with a portion of the under-construction viaduct caved in as the pillar cap collapsed. Twenty workers, were trapped under the debris, with few others sustaining multiple injuries. While three were declared brought dead in the hospital, after being pulled from under the debris, the bodies of three other workers remained trapped in the debris till evening, thus leaving six dead on the spot. The condition of two of the injured remained critical.
The toll fortunately still did not take too much, as the incident had taken place at 5 a.m. in early hours of the morning of Sunday, which was a holiday, otherwise the accident would have resulted in a much bigger tragedy in view of the routine rush around the site.
The report of the CAG has established a direct link between the tragedy leading to toll on human lives and limbs and the corruption, carelessness and the malpractices going on in project with apparent collusion among officials and authorities of the government and the company and the contractors.
Referring to its report, the CAG has made it public that in its comprehensive report submitted to the Central Government on July 1, 2008, more than a year before the recent tragedy has taken place, his office has duly exposed and objected to many aspects of the continuous scam in the project from beginning to the end.
The Central Government, which is bound under law to place the report of CAG immediately before the Parliament, in an unprecedented and completely illegal move, sent the report back to the CAG requiring it to include the point of view of the central government in it. This was done apparently to block the tabling of the report, and thus cover up the scam, at least for the time being, even in absence of any power vested in the government to do so and in complete derogation of all legal requirements and established procedures.
The concerned Ministry, the Urban Development Ministry, refused even to take up the matter, on the ground, that the project has nothing to do with it. It was then exposed that the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was never put under the administrative control of any of the Ministries of the Government, deliberately leaving both DMRC and the Central Government, unanswerable to any public institution, including the Parliament, for anything regarding the whole project. It is astonishing, that though the DMRC has been allocated one of the biggest chunks of money from the public exchequer, but its accountability to any of the public institution remains nil.
Perplexed at the death of six persons, the second time on the metro site, the Government was forced to table this report before the parliament yesterday.
“The findings have a clear and direct linkage to what we are witnessing today”, told Mr. A.N. Chatterjee, the CAG of India, directly linking the tragedies on the metro site to the scam in DMRC.
The report has exposed that no checks and controls have been prescribed over the DMRC, and the whole deal is a ‘unique’ and ‘ambiguous’ administrative model evolved by the Central Government, with no liabilities fixed. In derogation of the law and through intriguing drafting of deeds and contracts, the Company has been made an autonomous body in itself, answerable to none.
The CAG report has laid threadbare so many calculated violations of the procedures, leading to clear inference of apparent malafides on the part of the Government.
In the first instance, the report highlights the most fundamental breach at the time of settling of the bids of various competing companies for the contract of the construction of metro railways.
In four contracts, relaxations in commercial and technical terms were allowed after the opening of financial bids while negotiating with the lowest bidders.
"This practice was non-equitable as the other pre-qualified bidders were denied the opportunity to revise their bids in view of the change in commercial and technical terms", the report states.
“There is no regular monitoring from a designated administrative ministry and the main agency to provide oversight is the Board of Directors itself”, the report said, pointing to absence of any effective system of checks.
Further, underlining the absence of independent directors to monitor the DMRC itself, the report stated, “The Board, however, did not have independent Directors in accordance with Department of Public Enterprises’ guidelines”.
Pointing out that the company has not provided automatic train operations on all lines to ensure safer operation of trains, CAG states that, “the noise levels were beyond permissible limits and there were pre-mature wear and cracking in the wheel and floor of the rolling stock raising doubts on the stipulated 30 years of design life”.
Pulling the DMRC for scaling down the testing requirements while implementing the project, the report says, “Audit analysis of quality control indicated scaling down of testing requirements, non-witnessing of tests by the company’s representatives, testing of materials in non-accredited laboratories and non-preservation of test reports”.
At another place the CAG has said, “there was a shortfall in the ridership of the system which was mainly due to higher fare structure, lack of proper connectivity and lack of feeder bus system”.
Other irregularities committed through the unwarranted and dubious practices and procedures, pointed out are: selection of consultants for projects, land acquisition in excess of the requirement and its use for other purposes, deliberate evasion in maintenance of location wise-data of land use.
The report also pointed out, “Elevated structures of the Metro have been designed with axle loading of 16.5 ton, which is not compatible with Railway standards of EMP with 20 ton”.
“The use of broad gauge has resulted in an additional cost of Rs. 2.26 Crore per annum to the public exchequer, while benefitting the contractor” the report said.
The local people in the vicinity told that they have seen two big cracks on the pillars, involved in the mishap earlier and had informed the authorities about it, but no action was taken. However, Mr. Sreedharan said defiantly that, “Delhi Metro had not received any written complaints in this regard from the residents”. However, the stance of Sreedharan was refuted by the contractor company Gammon India Ltd, which told that the issue of cracks was deliberated with DMRC and the work was stopped for three months on that count. But then the DMRC took a decision to go ahead as it is. An injured worker at the site confirmed this saying that, “the work had been stopped on the stretch for almost three months because the pillar had developed a crack”. “Work resumed about six days ago,” he added.
However, confronted with this hard evidence, Delhi Metro spokesperson Anuj Dayal, in his zeal to deny the allegation, revealed a yet more serious lapse, “There was a defect in the peer cap which caused the displacement". "Problem was in the design of the pillar and we were trying to rectify it’ he added further.
The road caved in as the heavy concrete section fell upon it damaging the main pipeline, creating a flood like situation in the vicinity, while cracks appeared in the walls of nearby houses. Next day, the cranes brought for clearing the debris, could not remove the main concrete section and three of them were turned over damaging the nearby shops and houses further, and injuring six more workmen. It then tuned out that on the DMRC did not even care to employ the cranes of the strength sufficient to pick up the big concrete sections. Gammon India did not employ those cranes as their import from Japan is too costly and DMRC officials just shut their eyes.
Finally it transpired that the entire work has been distributed by the Gammon India, to numerous sub-contractors, who are performing the work, and there was practically none to check the construction. All this has been going on with active connivance of the officials of both the governments, DMRC, the contractors etc. The DMRC has been converted into a money mincing machine by them, laden with unparalleled corruption.
In an answer given in Rajya Sabha by the government, to the queries of the members on July 14, it came to light that neither any Trade Union of the workers is permitted by the DMRC, nor the records of workers employed are kept.
While Rajya Sabha discussed the issue of rampant corruption in the metro rail project, it was also told that 55 workmen had died in first phase of completion of 65 kms over 8 years, while 45 had died in second phase of completion of 121 kms in 4 years.
None of the provisions of the ‘Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Working Conditions) Act 1996’ is being adhered to by the management.
The most condemnable part of the whole story is the big drama, which took place on the very day of tragedy, to divert the attention and fool the enraged masses. The CEO of the DMRC, 77 year old E. Sridharan, the blue-eyed boy of the bosses in Delhi, sent his resignation by hand to the Chief Minister of Delhi, Shiela Dixit, who is in fact no authority to deal with the same, saying that though he is not responsible for the mishap, but on ‘moral grounds’ he is taking the responsibility. The corporate media, immediately triggered a campaign to sing in praise of this ‘moralist’. Within less than an hour, the Chief Minister, Sheila Dixit, jumped to the show, saying that, “it will not take any hasty decision and will consider what is good for the city”.
"We are not going to take any hasty decision on the resignation of Sreedharan," P K Tripathi, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, said echoing the Chief Minister herself .
Spokesman for the Lt Governor's office said, that "the decision will have to be taken at a political level." The DMRC is under the Urban Development Ministry of the Central Government and the L-G alone will not take a decision”, he said.
But then suddenly within a few hours, showing an unprecedented haste, it was declared that the cabinet of the Delhi Government had met and decide not to accept the resignation. The great ‘moralist’ then withdrew the resignation.
It would remain a mystery for the legal experts as to how Sreedharan tendered his resignation with Chief Minister of the Delhi Government and in what capacity the Chief Minister rejected it, when the DMRC is under the Central Government. In any case the decision was to be taken by the LG on behalf of the Central Government. But after all a drama is a drama!
The promptitude shown by the Delhi Government was ‘remarkable’. While the Central Government took more than one year in tabling the report of the CAG before the parliament, the Delhi government took hours in rejecting the resignation. Not only the decision of the cabinet was communicated, but the Chief Minister herself wrote a personal letter to the CEO, Sreedharan, singing his praise, saying that none except him could complete the project.
Reciprocating the favour, Mr. Sreedharan said, after withdrawing his regination, the accident had caused a delay of three months in completion of the Central Secretariat-Badarpur line and a direct loss of Rs.6 crore to DMRC. “But the work would be finished before the Commonwealth Games in the Capital next year,” he added.
The entire episodic drama was completed by the night of the very same day of mishap, when deaths of workers were being mourned and injured were battling for their life. However, diverting the attention of the public to the resignation drama, the high officials of the DMRC and the Gammon India, escaped the criminal action for which they were liable in any case. Instead of being sent to jail, for their misdeeds and gross negligence, the officials were restored and retained. To calm down the nerves of the people, a blank FIR of the incident was however, lodged by the police, without making anyone accused in that.
However, on the issue of fixing the responsibility of the officials for the mishap, both the Governments remained non-committal.
On the action against those responsible for the mishap, CM Ms. Dikshit said “it was upto the Delhi Metro to take whatever action they can, because they have such a fine reputation they would not like to ruin. I am sure they will take action."
Sensing the volatility of the situation, however, later a four member probe committee was arbitrarily constituted, by CEO of DMRC, Mr. Sridharan, to look into the reasons of the mishap.
"The four-member committee will inquire into the accident and will submit its report within 10 days," Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) Chief E. Sreedharan told reporters.
The probe Committee includes two officials of DMRC and two others of his choice. These include A.K. Nagpal of the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, and two officials from DMRC - Rajan Kataria, head of design cell, and Steven Lowry, project director for general construction. B.R. Bose of the Delhi College of Engineering is the woman member of the committee.
Notable is that the report of the similar probe committee appointed to investigate the earlier mishap at Laxmi Nagar construction site, eight months ago, which claimed lives of two workers with many more seriously injured, had also come out, but only to be put on the shelf, with no action at all. Probes merely serve as a tool to calm down the people, for the time being.
The CAG report has exposed the multi-dimensional scam in the entire metro project of 450 billion rupees. The scam, resulting in two big and several small mishaps, involving more than 100 lives till date, is obviously the source of filling of coffers of the political bosses, the board members of the DMRC, its executives, bureaucrats in the government and of course, the contractor MNC, Gammon India Ltd.