Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Aug 10, 2016, 04.00 AM IST
Documents accessed under RTI by Mirror show how the BBMP chief engineer’s suggestions on water drainage were trashed; the results are there for all to see
One of the reasons why allegations against the TenderSURE initiative of the Karnataka government has not made much headway is that all agencies and government departments have been pointing towards someone else, or simply passing the buck. No one wants to take ownership of the problems.
For instance, the Jana Urban Space Foundation (Jana USP, as it calls itself), that has been at the forefront of the project, has always insisted that it is the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) that is the implementing authority of TenderSURE projects. Jana USP chairperson Swati Ramanathan, when asked by a researcher in May 2014, had replied in an email, “The right entity to ask these is (the) government—state which scrutinised and authorised the project in (the) Assembly… I am providing design engagement—functionality, design usability, standards, technical challenges—and am on the technical committee.”
Records of official minutes procured under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, however, indicate that even though the BBMP commissioner was the implementing authority on paper, it was Jana USP which called the shots. Moreover, BBMP engineers were officially asked to lay off, and the multitude of civic agencies of the city were asked to abide by Jana USP’s instructions and specifications.
At the very first meeting that then chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda had with a five-member delegation from the Bangalore City Connect Foundation (BCCF) in September 2011, it was BBMP commissioner HS Siddaiah who was present, but the mayor of the elected council was not. A tentative amount of Rs75-100 crore was approved, and it was even decided that a government order would be issued within 15 days. In doing so, the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act was circumvented.
According to Section 166 of the KMC Act, only the commissioner can prepare estimates of expenditure and income. The next section of the Act stipulates that budget estimates have to be prepared by the standing committee on taxation and finance. The budget then has to be passed by the corporation, and only then can the state government sanction the budget either in its entirety or subject it to modifications. And if changes are required, the corporation needs to pass a supplemental budget. None of these were done.
Though it was not clear at the beginning where the money would come from, it was later decided that the state government and the palike would split the costs equally. However, even this was not done by taking the council into confidence. Incidentally, all this time, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that was in power both in the Assembly as well as the palike. By the time the tender was eventually awarded in August 2013, Siddara-maiah had become CM.
Who’s the boss
The meeting chaired by BBMP commissioner M Lakshminarayana on February 28, 2014 was the first major one after the tender had been awarded to NAPC Ltd in August 2013. That day, Ramanathan complained that the BBMP had not been “treating Jana USP well” and asserted that her organisation had in fact volunteered to do all the construction drawings for the project. The chief engineer (road infrastructure) countered this saying the task of preparing drawings was part of the consultant’s job, and that it was obligatory on part of Jana USP to provide the same.
Ramanathan also objected to the chief engineer’s comments that the technical submissions made by Jana USP were “substandard.” She argued that the designs and drawings were only architectural illustrations and those would change when the project was actually rolled out.
A number of other apparent technical flaws were pointed out too, and on every count it was insisted upon by the commissioner that those would eventually change. It was at this meeting that Ramanathan insisted on the appointment of nodal officers for “smooth coordination” among agencies. This was accepted by the commissioner.
Serious differences, however, persisted, and reached a point of no return at a meeting at the Vidhan Soudha on July 15, 2014 that was chaired by chief secretary Kaushik Mukherjee. There were sharp differences over technical specifications between Ramanathan and the chief engineer for road infrastructure, S Somashekar. Ramanathan objected, and said changes were made without Jana USP’s “consent.” The balance of power changed at this point.
The additional chief secretary (urban development department) said that henceforth, no changes would be made once drawings and specifications were “issued” by Jana USP.
What was added to this was more significant: “There shall be no powers to the chief engineer to make any changes in the drawings and specifications that are going to be issued by JUSP for TenderSURE implementation unless agreed by JUSP.” If that was not all, it was also decided that “BBMP engineers should not get involved in these roads and visit these roads except for checking the final measurements submitted by the executing agency, which shall be certified by JUSP and approved by a project management consultant.”
The subsequent directions were still clearer: “JUSP shall visit the sites and give necessary directions to the agency to implement the work as per the drawings issued by them.” So, even though Ramanathan has consistently insisted that it was the BBMP that was the implementing authority, it is evident that the palike officials could not do anything without the nod of Ramanathan or her organisation.
Copies of the minutes of both meetings are in the possession of Bangalore Mirror.