No records, excess payments — Bengaluru’s stormwater drain works lack accountability

lack of accountability in SWD works

A collapsed drain after rains in October 2020
A collapsed stormwater drain after intense rains in October 2020. Pic: BBMP Commissioner/Facebook

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we saw that Bengaluru’s drains are poorly designed and that the government doesn’t even have a full database of the drainage network even as many drains have gone missing. In this article, we explore why these stormwater drain works do not yield results.

When a government department entrusts any work to a contractor, it should follow clear procedures to verify the completed works and make payments. But this seems anathema to BBMP’s Stormwater Drain (SWD) Department.

A 2021 audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), an independent watchdog body, shows that the SWD Department does not maintain records like work registers or the progress reports of works. It does not ask contractors to submit the final drawings of the works done. All of which are essential before making payment.

Many works are passed off as ’emergency works’, without calling tenders. The department has on occasion even paid twice the amount due for the same works.

CAG had audited records between 2013-14 and 2017-18, during which SWD Department had taken up the remodeling of around 332 km of drains, and maintenance of around 308 km.

Payment done without proper work records

Works history register, progress reports not maintained

As per the Karnataka Public Works Code, the SWD Department should have maintained a Works History Register. This register should include a separate folio for each stormwater drain, recording the chainage (surveyed length), drain length covered, type of work, time period and expenses, etc. But three BWSSB zones – East, Bommanahalli, and Koramangala – had not maintained this register at all, and the other six had incomplete registers. Other essential records like the contractor’s ledger and progress reports of works were also missing.

This could allow contractors to incorrectly report the works done, or abandon works while claiming costs, says the CAG report. It could also lead to duplication of the works in the future, especially as many works were executed without an approved action plan.

All works need an approved ‘action plan’ before execution, but these were missing

Responding to the audit report, the state government and BBMP said that action plans and progress reports were prepared only for works under Chief Minister’s Nagarothana Yojane, but didn’t clarify the reason for this.


Read more: Ad hoc contracts cost 600 Crores to dump garbage in quarries


Paying for silt disposal without verification

In Part 2 of this series, city-based architect Naresh Narasimhan had said drain desilting works are ineffective since contractors often place the removed silt right next to drains, which then flows back into the drain during the next rains.

But as per rules, for silt disposal, a ‘lead chart’ should be prepared which clearly shows the distance from the worksite to the land where silt is disposed, the nature of the land, etc. But auditors found that, for 98 test-checked works, contractors were paid around Rs 10 crore for silt transport through no lead chart was prepared. Without the lead chart, the contractors’ claims are doubtful, says the audit report.

Replying to the audit, the state government said that the lead chart is prepared now since a technical wing has been established in the SWD Department, but was silent on how the genuineness of the earlier payments could be verified.

‘Completion plans’ and ‘as built drawings’ by contractors not available

After completing stormwater drain works, contractors have to submit these two documents, which show the actual work done and any deviation from the original specifications due to site conditions. And the department should refer to the revised drawings when taking up future works, especially since many works are emergency works taken up without an action plan or proper site investigation. The revised drawings are also important for ensuring that drain beds are not damaged during future maintenance works. But none of the zones submitted these documents to the auditors.

stormwater drain work - slabs lying on side
Stormwater drain work in KG Halli ward, 2019. Pic: Office of KJ George/Twitter

While all the above documents were missing, the records that the auditors examined showed works sanctioned under different names, without specifying the location. Also, the physical work locations didn’t have boards or markings to indicate the works done. So auditors had no way to verify if the works had actually been completed.

The audit report even mentions a case where the SWD Department lost basic documents relating to works, but built up a file and made payments entirely based on duplicate files given by the contractor. STUP Consultants had been paid various bills earlier by the zonal SWD offices, but the Chief Engineer at the SWD head office cleared the balance payment of Rs 95 lakh to the agency in 2018 without verifying those previous payments and in the absence of basic records. The department made no effort to trace the lost records or hold the concerned officials responsible.

“Emergency works” done without tenders, yet long delayed

In the audit period between 2013-14 and 2017-18, BBMP had got the government agency KRIDL (Karnataka Rural Infrastructure Development Ltd) to execute 22 drain works worth Rs 15 crore. No tenders were called. This was done by treating the works as ‘emergency works’ under clause 4(g) of the KTPP (Karnataka Transparency in Public Procurements) Act, which gives exemption from calling tenders for certain specific circumstances. This was despite a recommendation by the Legislature’s Committee on Local Bodies and Panchayat Raj Institutions to not entrust works to KRIDL.

(Many government agencies had misused clause 4(g) of KTTP Act over the years to give works to KRIDL, and KRIDL has faced allegations of fund misappropriation. In 2020, the Karnataka High Court stayed government agencies from giving works to KRIDL.)

The audit found that, despite being labelled emergency works, many works were delayed. Of the 15 works test-checked, the auditors found that six had been delayed for time periods ranging from one month to 23 months. This defeated the purpose of giving works to KRIDL without calling tenders. 


Read more: Bengaluru’s stormwater drain story: Lack of planning, design, maintenance


Excess payments for stormwater drain works

Sometimes, extra payments were made to contractors for the same work, or work was duplicated.

Examples:

  • As per tender documents for the works to divert water course, the rates include that for construction of cofferdams. But in 115 test-checked works, auditors found that the SWD Department had calculated the payment for cofferdam construction separately and paid over Rs 4 cr to contractors.
  • As per central government’s specifications for roads and bridges, the cost of excavating foundations includes that of backfilling the excavated space. But in 62 works the auditors test-checked, contractors were paid Rs 4.4 cr separately for backfilling, even though the original estimates and the rates quoted by contractors already included this amount. A 2013 CAG report had pointed out the extra payment for both coffer dams and backfilling, and the Committee on Local Bodies and Panchayat Raj Institutions had said that such extra spending is not allowed, yet the practice continued. The Committee had also directed that action should be taken against officials for excess payment, but no action was taken.
  • In 2013-14, BBMP had got Preethi CAD Consultants to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for drain works in all of Bommanahalli zone. But the very next year, BBMP got another agency STUP Consultants to prepare another set of DPRs for drain works in Hulimavu and Madiwala which come under Bommanahalli zone, at the cost of Rs 1.3 cr. SWD Department didn’t explain the reason for this duplication.

More concerns

  • After contractors abandoned stormwater drain works under JNNURM in 2005-06, state government ordered in 2013 that BBMP should rescind the contracts and recover ‘risk and cost’ from those contractors. But BBMP has still not recovered this amount, leading to the loss of crores of rupees. Worse, when auditors test-checked one of the 15 contract packages, they found that SWD Department had paid the contractor Rs 1.6 cr between 2013 and 2017. In a response to auditors in 2019, BBMP said that action will be taken against guilty officials, but no action was taken as of December 2020.
  • Only engineers in the SWD Department are supposed to implement stormwater drain works. But tenders for 110 drain works in the audit period were called by BBMP’s zonal Executive Engineers, not the SWD Department. Allowing multiple authorities to execute works, especially when basic records are absent, can lead to duplication of works, says the report.
BBMP claimed to have removed in 2016 the Padmavathi and Meenakshi kalyana mantapas which encroached a primary drain (rajakaluve) in RR Nagar. But auditors found that the buildings still remained, now connected by a concrete slab over the drain, and gets flooded often.
  • The KMC (Karnataka Municipal Corporation) Act empowers BBMP to remove encroachments from drains and recover cost from offenders. In December 2020, the CE, SWD, identified 2626 encroachments of which 714 were yet to be removed. But during physical inspections, auditors found that the evictions were incomplete – only a portion of encroached buildings was razed, and the drain conditions were not improved. And one of the encroachments that BBMP claimed to have removed, still existed. Also, many encroachments that the auditors observed were not in the BBMP list.

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About Navya P K 313 Articles
Navya has 12 years of experience in journalism, covering development, urban governance and environment. She was earlier Senior Journalist, Citizen Matters, and Reporter, The New Indian Express. She has also freelanced for publications such as The News Minute, Factor Daily and India Together. Navya won the All India Environment Journalism Award, 2013, for her investigative series on the environmental violations of an upcoming SEZ in Bengaluru, published in Citizen Matters. She also won the PII-UNICEF fellowship in 2016 to report on child rights in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Navya has an MA in Political Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a PG Diploma from the Asian College of Journalism.