Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in a major intervention during the Question Hour in the Assembly on Tuesday, said that no one who had indulged in corruption in the construction of Palarivattom fly over in Kochi would be spared. The chief minister said it was the failure of former UDF government to act on a “shocking report of corruption” submitted by the VACB in 2015 that eventually led to Palarivattom flyover fiasco.
The chief minister's aggressive statement was in contrast to the mellowed, watchful stance of Public Works Department (PWD) minister G Sudhakaran, who, it was felt, was assessing the issues related to the damage to the flyover before taking a public stand against the UDF political leadership.
The bridge was commissioned in 2016, during the fag end of the UDF tenure, and had developed extensive damage within a month of its commissioning. A probe had found that the use of inferior cement and inadequate quantity of steel had resulted in the cracks on pier caps and girders of the bridge.
“There were corruption charges against the PWD even earlier. So on the basis of this, the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau had done a study and submitted a report to the government on February 28, 2015,” the chief minister said during Question Hour in the Assembly. “Such a report with some shocking details should have prompted immediate action. Nothing was done and now we are suffering the repercussions of such inaction,” the chief minister added.
Though the original question on corruption in the PWD was posed to PWD minister G Sudhakaran during the Question Hour, it was the chief minister who did most of the talking. The chief minister's special interest in the issue is also a sign that the cracks on the Palarivattom flyover will be taken up as a major political issue against the UDF in the days to come.
How PWD men make money
The chief minister also listed the nine major ways in which corruption flourishes in the PWD, as laid down in the 2015 VACB report. One, the percentage of bribe to be offered to PWD officials at various levels will be fixed at the time of drawing up the bill for the public work.
Two, bills would be passed before the work is complete after taking a bribe. Three, green-lighting of bloated work estimates after securing a fat bribe.
Four, the illegal sale of construction material provided by the PWD, including tar. Five, a fixed amount is extracted for postings and transfers. Six, chief/superintending engineers in various divisions carry out fund mobilisation drives saying the money was for the minister and secretary-level officials. (“We are not sure whether the money was taken home by these officials or was passed upwards,” the chief minister observed.)
Seven, absolute waywardness of Kerala State Construction Corporation with the PWD having no control over it. Eight, corruption related to the digging of roads for telecom purposes. Nine, the PWD officials secure extra money by making favourable but improper measurements during road works.
G Sudhakaran also spoke of corruption in his department. He said action was taken against 100-odd officials, including engineers, for corruption, dereliction of duty and for causing financial loss to the department. He, however, was silent about the political leadership.
The chief minister then stood up and made it clear that the former UDF dispensation had also erred big time. A vigilance probe has already begun into the reasons that led to the failure of the Palarivattom flyover in Kochi.