A con job gone awry. That sums up the Rs 25,000-crore fake bills scam in the Palike. The sadder part is the BBMP head honchos asserting there is no scam at all.
Byrappa, a resident of Bhuvaneshwari Nagar in Bagalagunte, vividly remembers
December 6, 2000. That day is etched deep in his memory because on that day, the roads in his area were asphalted for the first time. But, it took another nine years for the roads to be asphalted again.
“It was a boot-polish kind of job. A thin layer of bitumen was spread on the uneven road surface. The contractor got melted tar poured on the unclean and uneven road surface. A layer of gravel was put over it to show asphalting was over,” recalls Byrappa.
He then had a verbal duel with the contractor for the shoddy job, which compelled the local MLA to rush there. The MLA agreed that a proper job had not been done.
But the worst was yet to come. Byrappa was flabbergasted when he was told that in 2009, the two main civic agencies — Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) — had carried out asphalting and improvement of cross roads multiple times in Bhuvaneshwari Nagar, a small layout spread across about 30 acres.
Documents available with Deccan Herald show that in 2008-09, the BDA spent Rs 40 lakh on “improvement of cross roads at Bhuvaneshwari Nagar” under its Package-5 and Rs 45 lakh on “Asphalting Bhuvaneshwari Nagar Road” under Package-6. While one wonders what “improvement of road” and “asphalting the road” means, there is another shocker in store. The BBMP suddenly came into the picture the same year (2008-09) to improve the revenue layout. The next year (2009-10) too, the Palike returned to asphalt and improve the roads there. Although the BDA could execute all the road development works at a cost of only Rs 85 lakh, the BBMP required Rs 3.34 crore, before
giving a completion report on improving and asphalting the roads.
What the fake bill scam means
Simply put, the fake bill scam is about duplication of civic works, and in many cases, work not carried out at all. It is also about shoddy work of the worst kind, a trend that has shamed the BBMP. The enormity of the scam is estimated to be in the range of a Rs 25,000 crore although the State government does not agree with the enormity. An initial probe into 153 of the 10,960-odd Bill Registers of three Assembly constituencies – Rajarajeshwari Nagar, Malleswaram and Gandhinagar – had revealed that a whopping Rs 1,539 crore was squandered.
Dr Rajvir Pratap Sharma, Additional Director General of Police and chief of the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force (BMTF) — who had investigated the scam initially — defines the fake bill scam thus: “As you know, faking happens for quick gains. This scam is all about no work or a little work.”
In other words, it is about production of bills for no work by the contractors,
executing a token work but claiming full payment, or doing one work promptly and producing multiple bills for payment.
Former Mayor P R Ramesh explains: “Engineers manufacture a requirement of work in some area on paper. They show that some work has taken place in the area and then in connivance with contractors, ensure they get full payment.”
Much of the fake bills scam took place in 2008-09 when it had become apparent that elections to the local bodies were imminent. Many contractors, who had set their eyes on tickets to contest the BBMP elections, were in dire need of money. They greased the palms of engineers, bureaucrats and leaders and got money in excess, say Palike insiders.
As if the work completion reports were not questionable enough, the engineers submitted photographs of the completed works, which again were deceptive. Says an officer involved in the investigation of the case: “None of the photographs was genuine as they did not have landmarks. The most stupid thing is that the Palike never employed a team of expert photographers who can go to the spot and take the correct pictures.”
JD(S) floor leader in the BBMP Council, Padmanabha Reddy, is quite vocal about the way the scam has been handled so far. “From the day we were elected to the Council, we have been demanding a white paper on the financial health of the Palike. Now that the Palike is in an embarrassing situation, it should hand over the matter to a competent probe agency such as the Lokayukta,” says Reddy.
How the scam was exposed
Based on an intelligence input, then BBMP Commissioner Siddaiah had ordered the Technical Vigilance Committee under the Commissioner (TVCC) to ‘inquire’ into the works that had been carried out in Gandhinagar, Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Malleswaram.
The probe found that the works were undertaken without a technical feasibility test, map of the layout or drawing. The works were undertaken without taking the necessary technical and administrative approvals. Even advertisements did not appear in the manner they should have.
In many cases, only two bidders came forward to apply for the contract, which was in violation of the Karnataka Transparency in Public Procurement Act. The engineers did not bother to seek revalidation from the commissioner for the spillover works.
The contract and the completion certificates did not bear the signatures and seals of the competent authorities such as the assistant executive engineer, executive engineer and other superiors. Finally, the existence of multiple bills for one work laid bare the whole scam.
Scam beyond three constituencies
The case of Bhuvaneshwari Nagar at Bagalagunte of Dasarahalli suggests that the scam was pervasive enough to spread across Bangalore. This negates the claim that the irregularities were limited to only three constituencies in BBMP areas.
In the Bommanahalli Assembly constituency, for instance, BDA and BBMP carried out the construction of drains, culverts, metalling, asphalting of roads and construction of concrete pavements in Lakshmi Layout for two years – 2008-09 and 2009-10. At Devarachikkanahalli in the same constituency, the BDA asphalted the road spending Rs 80 lakh in 2008-09, and the very next year, BBMP too did the same work spending Rs 50 lakh.
Mahalakshmipuram MLA N L Narendra Babu had complained about substandard work and duplication of works on paper in his constituency. He had demanded a thorough probe into the matter.
No scam: Deputy Mayor
Although there is no dearth of evidence on the fake bill scam, the ruling BJP in the Palike continues to insist that no scam has taken place. Deputy Mayor S Harish rejects the notion of a fake bill scam outright. “No scam has taken place in the City. The Palike did its work sincerely. In the last five years, the extent of works that were carried out is much more than ever before,” claims Harish.
Unlike the BMTF, which showed rapid progress in investigation into the case, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probe is progressing at a snail’s pace. All eyes are now on the High Court of Karnataka which is to give its orders on a public interest litigation filed by some individuals seeking a CBI probe. The petitioners claim fake bills scam is nothing less than the 2G Spectrum scam, which had shaken the UPA government at the Centre.
Questions that beg answers
*If Bhuvaneshwari Nagar is a revenue layout, why was BDA, the planning authority of the City, involved in developing the area?
*How could BDA afford developing a revenue layout when it has failed to maintain its own layouts in the City, many of which lack drinking water?
*If BDA could complete asphalting and improving the roads with Rs 85 lakh, why did the BBMP require Rs 3.34 crore?
* When BDA had already completed the work, what compelled BBMP to carry out the same work?
* Does this mean that roads were asphalted and repaired in 2008-09 and 2009-10, four to five times?