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Judiciary raps Mumbai municipality for road scam, Shiv Sena red-faced

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is getting into more and more trouble over the multi-crore road repair scam.

While the civic administration is drawing flak from the state government as well as judiciary for the scam, the Shiv Sena, which controls the MCGM, is more worried, because the inquiry only started following a letter to the MCGM chief Ajoy Mehta by Mumbai Mayor Snehal Ambekar of the Shiv Sena.

The move was aimed at diverting the attention from similar allegations about nullah desilting contracts in Mumbai, but has boomeranged on the Sena, leaving party chief Uddhav Thackeray red-faced.

Also read- Mumbai road repair scam: 10 auditors arrested for false reports

Now, the MCGM is facing a double whammy. First, the Bombay High Court ordered it to blacklist the contractors involved in malpractices. And now, the state Lokayukta has ordered it to book the officials found guilty under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

For the first time in the history, such stringent action is being taken against corrupt civic officials.

Ambekar's letter

Ambekar wrote a 'confidential' letter to MCGM chief Mehta on 1 October 2015. After the letter made it to the news, Ambekar attracted criticism not just from the Opposition, but also her party colleagues.

Sena leaders tried to cover up the act by portraying it as being aimed at unearthing corruption in the civic body. Following the letter, the inquiry initiated by Mehta led to several skeletons stumbling out of the closet.

This made things worse for the Shiv Sena, as all fingers were pointed at its leaders, who virtually controlled every decision in the civic body.

An interim report by the civic body indicated that the scam might run into several crore rupees, and had much more to it than what met the eye.

Ambekar, in the letter, had spelt out all the details of corruption in the road repair works, including the percentage of commission paid to the officials concerned.

She had written: "This is to inform you that, like the inquiry into the desilting work, similar malpractices are being followed in the roads department. Contractors transport only 20% of the earth and 80% of the money goes into the pockets of contractors and corrupt officers."

After the initial inquiry, 11 road contractors came under the scanner. Police arrested several civic officials as well as employees of private audit firms for submitting forged documents to cover up the corruption.

New jobs for blacklisted contractors

While the police inquiry was going on, the civic body awarded new road repair contracts to the tainted contractors. Mumbai based RTI activist Anil Galgali lodged a private complaint with the Lokayukta, and demanded stringent action against the corrupt officials and politicians.

After the hearing on the complaint, the Lokayukta - Justice (Retd) ML Tahaliyani - ordered the civic body to take action against officials found guilty of the scam under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

"The scam runs into several thousand crores. Ironically, the civic authorities not only awarded contracts to tainted contractors, but also helped two of the tainted contractors to get enlisted to bid for the ambitious Goregaon-Mulund Link Road project worth Rs 1,300 crore. It seems that the civic authorities are not ready to learn a lesson from the mistakes," said Galgali.

In his letter to the Lokayukta, Galgali had said that the MCGM, on one hand, lodged FIRs against the tainted contractors, and on the other, went out of its way to promote these contractors in getting work for the Hancock, Yari Road, Mithi River and Vikhroli flyovers.

High Court's observations

The Bombay High Court has now cancelled the decision of the civic body to award these flyover contracts to blacklisted contractors.

An alert citizen, Jayashree Khadilkar, had filed a petition against the decision to award these contracts. The petition was suo motu converted into a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).

The court, during the hearing, observed that it was a shocking development, and also did not accept the argument by the civic body that the delay in the construction of these flyovers would lead to tremendous hardship to citizens.

It was pointed out in the court that the Mithi River bridge was closed in 2006, and the level crossing gate at Vikhroli was closed in 2012, while the Hancock Bridge was closed three-and-a-half years ago.

"In this situation, there is no question of public inconvenience, since the traffic on these stretches has already been stopped. This is enough proof that the civic authorities are worried about the contractors and not the citizens," the court observed.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 7 July 2016, 2:52 IST
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.