Congress, NCP allege graft in construction of Shiv Smarak

Opposition asks CM Fadnavis to come clean by disclosing details

[File] Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs Jal Pujan for the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial in the Arabian Sea, 4 km off Mumbai's Marine Drive | PTI [File] Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs Jal Pujan for the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial in the Arabian Sea, 4 km off Mumbai's Marine Drive | PTI

The Congress and the NCP on Tuesday alleged corruption in the tendering process of Shiv Smarak (statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji ) project and asked Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to come clean by disclosing all relevant details

In a joint media briefing, Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant and NCP spokesman Nawab Malik said that the state government had promised that a Shivaji Maharaj memorial would be constructed in the Arabian Sea, off Mumbai coast. Tenders for the project were issued in 2017.  The L&T submitted a bid of Rs 3,826 crore for the project . As per the tender documents, the height of the memorial was to be 121.2 meters of which 83.2 meters was the statue and 37 meters was the sword.

The state government brought down the project cost to Rs 2,500 crore by negotiating with L&T which was in violation of the guidelines set by the central vigilance commission that tender value can not be negotiated.

To reduce the cost of the project, changes were made in the design of the statue. The overall height of the memorial was kept the same at 121.2 metres, but the height of the statue was reduced to 75.7 metres and the height of the sword was increased to 45.5 metres. Even the reclaimed area was reduced from 15.6 hectors to 12.8 hectors of which only 6.8 hectors were going to be used for developing the Shivsmarak in the first phase. The technical feasibility issues have been totally ignored, said Sawant.

"What was even more surprising was that the revised proposal was approved by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Februray 28, 2018. After the approval, the public works department sent a letter to L&T for their approval. L&T studied the revised proposal in just one day and gave its approval on March 1, 2018. And on that very day, the chief minister handed over the acceptance letter to the company. Such a hurry in handing over the LOA says a lot," stated Sawant and Malik.

According to Sawant and Malik, the agreement for the project was done between L&T and the executive engineer of the department on July 28, 2018. But when the agreement was being done, a senior divisional account officer raised his objections by writing an immediate handwritten dissent note. 

In the note, the officer said, "I was not made a part of the negotiations held with L&T nor the decision to sign the agreement.

“The negotiation of tendered rate is prohibited by CVC. However, a drastic cost reduction in contract was done through negotiation from Rs 3,800 crore to Rs 2,500 crore which is a violation of the CVC guidelines. Once the bidder is finalised, if the scope of work of a project has to be revised, then a fresh tender has to be called for. If fresh tenders are not called, it is violating the CVC guidelines. Cost reduction through negotiation may result in sub-standard work and any reduction in scope of work may impact the project adversely," said the senior divisional account officer.

Considering the seriousness of the violations, the senior divisional account officer wrote another letter to the executive engineer on July 24, 2018, citing his objections regarding the project. In the letter he said, as per the tender documents,  negotiations and the letter of approval, it is expected that the agreement for the project should be between the chief engineer of the public works department and the contractor. Even then, the agreement was done between the executive engineer and the contractor, which is in violation of the tender clauses. 

Based on all the lapses and irregularities in the project, the senior divisional account officer sent all the letters he had written to the chief auditor (audit-1) asking for an in-depth audit of the project. The project has been brought to a halt as per the oral orders given by the Supreme Court. Even then an expense of Rs 80 crore have been shown as spent on the project.

The officials’ letter also showed that there is extreme pressure from the government on them to pay the company the amount they have spent on the project so far.

Even as the senior account officer who blew the whistle on the corruption in the project was transferred, another officer, Vikash Kumar Adhikari, also demanded that an audit be conducted on the project. Kumar also referred to the letter written by the senior divisional account officer on February 26, 2018 regarding the lapses in the project.

In the letter Kumar observed, "One cannot ignore the irregularities in the project. And whether to continue the project with these irregularities is the question that I am faced with. There can be a pressure from the senior authorities to clear the bills of the contractor but whether I should clear these bills or not is something I have been thinking a lot about, ".

After this letter, the chief engineer, too, wrote to the principal auditor seeking an audit in the project. The fact that these officers have been demanding an audit in the project on their own without informing the PWD shows the level of pressure on them by the government.

Also the fact that the chief engineer didn't sign the agreement but made this junior officer sign it shows the feeling among the officers regarding the project.

Sawant claimed it is clear that there has been corruption in the tendering process of the Shiv Smarak project. "The chief minister who talks about transparency on one hand and protects the corrupt on the other hand should answer whether the guidelines laid down by the CVC have been violated during the tendering process, why the agreement with L&T was not signed by the chief engineer and instead the executive engineer was made to sign on it, why two senior officers from the accountant department wrote three letters highlighting the serious lapses in the project and what action the government took on those letter. Despite no work being done, who was from the government pressuring the senior officers from the accounts department to clear the contractors bills? Finally, along with the chief engineer, all the officers associated with the project want an audit of the project and have also written to the principal auditor for a detailed audit, but they haven't informed the government about it. Why so?"