R&B Deptt fails to clear contractors’ liability worth over Rs 500 cr in J&K

‘Political intervention leads to excess road works’

Gopal Sharma

JAMMU, Feb 14: The Roads and Buildings Department of J&K has failed to clear the liability worth over Rs 500 crores of contractors who performed various road works in Kashmir and Jammu regions during last four years.
Official sources told the Excelsior that these liabilities piled up during 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 as excess road works were performed by various Executive Engineers and SEs on the verbal instructions of former Ministers and Legislators during PDP-BJP regime in the Jammu and Kashmir. Majority of these works pertained to macadamization (black topping) of the roads in Jammu City, summer capital Srinagar besides other districts and sub divisions across J&K.
Sources further revealed that liability worth over Rs 100 crores of macamadization works just in Jammu region and over Rs 400 crores in Kashmir region is pending since 2015. The contractors even staged dharnas and held protest demonstrations at Nirman Bhawan, Rail Head Complex Jammu several times besides Srinagar office of Chief Engineer but received mere assurances from the senior officers.
The higher authorities in the R&B failed to clear their dues. Some contractors who projected their bills ranging from Rs 50 lakhs to Rs 3 crores, claimed that they have been moving from pillar to post but no body listened to them. Even the political leaders who are not in power now, are feeling helpless to support them.
Some members of the Jammu Contractors Association who visited Excelsior office the other day, revealed that they met the concerned Executive Engineers, Superintending Engineers and even Chief Engineer R&B, Jammu several times but they claimed that they will release money when Government release funds. Now, some of them (Xens) have projected that a top bureaucrat in a recent meeting has warned R&B engineers to register FIRs with the Anti Corruption Bureau against them for the liabilities generated during past years in each R&B Division and declined to release funds.
Vinod Kohli, general secretary of the Jammu Contractors Association said that they have executed works on the directions of the concerned Executive Engineers/ AEEs and have utilized their own money for the same. They have black topped many roads during past 3-4 years. They were even told during works by few officers that on the instructions of BJP-PDP MLAs/ Ministers they were executing works.
They carried out works in good faith as they were doing earlier also during the regime of NC or Congress. They have worked on the ground and not only on papers. No funds have been withdrawn till date by any DDOs or contractors. “Let any agency hold inquiry / physical verification before clearing their bills,” Kohli said adding that many contractors have taken loan from Banks and they are being made to pay interest of the loans taken. It is most unfair and grave injustice on the part of Government to deny them payments, he added.
Former Dy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader, Kavinder Gupta said that for the last few years most of the works were performed after issuing proper tenders. Nobody does works now on verbal directions of any one. But he admitted that during popular (BJP-PDP) Government some additional road macadamization works were projected with the Chief Engineer/ Executive Engineers on public demands. So this must be old liability piled up now. The Government must clear the same as the contractors were not at fault any where.
Former Minister and senior BJP leader, Sukhnandan Choudhary when contacted said, it is not new thing they have done. Even during previous NC, Congress regime also, political people (Ministers / MLAs) on the strong public demands used to issue directions to concerned Xens/ SEs or even the Chief Engineers to execute additional road works. He said even in his own Marh constituency, he got several road black topping works executed.
“People some times block road and hold protests. What you will do? A public representative has to act upon after such strong demands are projected by the people. Therefore, Government servants/ engineers have to follow the instructions. If they have executed works. They are on the ground and not in the air. Let the physical verification is held if some bureaucrat or agency wants. You can’t deny payments to the contractors or make scapegoat to the Government servants/ engineers,” the former BJP MLA said while responding to yet another question.
When asked that Lt Governor’s Administration has cautioned to register FIR against Engineers for raising liabilities and was in denial mode of contractors’ payments, the ex-MLA said when State was converted to UT and new ‘set up’ took over all of its assets, then why it is not prepared to own its liabilities as well. It is their baby now and they should shoulder this responsibility as well,” the former MLA maintained.
Chief Engineer, R&B Jammu Des Raj Bhagat when contacted said that there will be around Rs 90 crore liability of contractors in Jammu region piled up during last about 4 years for the macamadization works only. Around Rs 65 crore amount will be the liability of Jammu and Samba districts alone. He claimed that his office has projected this issue before the Administrative Department and they have further taken up the matter with the Finance department. When the payments are released, they will clear the old liability, he added.
When asked how these liabilities were piled up, the Chief Engineer said most of the works were performed on the instructions of the politicians (former Ministers/Legislators). The engineers have not done works on their own. During popular Government, these things happen and junior officers have just obeyed the dictates from the top.
Chief Engineer , PW(R&B) Deptt Kashmir, Sammi Arif when contacted said there will be around Rs 400 crore or little less (say around Rs 380 cr) liability of contractors in Kashmir. He said during Kashmir floods in 2014, many roads got extensively damaged. The works were started during 2015 onwards. Huge liability went on piling up and was not cleared till date. The contractors were taking rounds of his office many times. We have coveyed them that the demand has been projected with the Commissioner/ Secretary and he has taken up the issue with the Government”, he said, adding some queries were raised by the Finance department and they have replied the same. The payments will be cleared after funds are received from Government. He said engineers can not be cowed down as they have done excess works only on the directions of the public representatives.
Commissioner / Secretary, PW(R&B), Khurshid Ahmed Shah when asked about the reason of delaying payments of contractors worth over Rs 500 crores said, this is an old issue. He said during 2014 floods road infrastructure suffered severe damage in J&K. These payments are pending since 2015, 16, 17 and even 18. He said Government is seized of the matter. This liability has been projected at the higher level. ” The process has been commenced. We are doing it shortly. The liabilities will be cleared on receiving funds,” Shah added.