Bangalore: This tech hub that has been voted in a global survey as the best city to live in India could have been a much better place if the civic authorities and contractors had not swindled Rs 15 billion (USD 300 million) in three years from the tax payers in the name of improving infrastructure.
The Rs 1,539 crore could have made over half of the road network in the city - over 900 km of arterial and around 1,200 km of non-arterial roads - free of potholes. It is generally estimated that it costs Rs 1 crore to lay a kilometre of good road.
The good news that Bangalore is considered the best city to live in the country came last Tuesday when the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike or Greater Bangalore City Corporation) meeting ended in chaos over the scandal and its engineers struck work opposing a probe into the fraud.
The global survey, `Quality of Living Survey - Worldwide Rankings, 2011`, conducted by the Human Resources consultancy major Mercer, however, gave Bangalore the 141st position among global cities.
BBMP is said to have doled out a huge amount – Rs 1,539 crore - to contractors since 2008 for half-done or poorly executed and in many cases yet-to-start civic works in just three of the 28 assembly constituencies in Bangalore. Instances have also come to light that in a large number of cases, payment was made twice for the same work and in others money was given on fake bills.
Apparently alarmed by the scale of the scandal, BBMP commissioner Siddaiah, a senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, Nov 4 asked the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force (BMTF), a police wing that exclusively deals with irregularities in civic bodies, to investigate.
A BMTF spokesperson told reporters that a First Information Report (FIR) marking the formal beginning of investigation has been registered based on the BBMP complaint that irregularities to the tune of Rs 1,539 crore have taken place in the civic body.
On Monday, Siddaiah was shunted out of the BBMP, allegedly under pressure from politicians as well as contractors, though he says he had sought transfer because of health reasons.
The civic works in assembly constituencies of Malleshwaram in north Bangalore, Gandhinagar in city centre and Rajarajeshwari Nagar in the south are mainly related to asphalting of roads, re-laying footpaths and repairing drains.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power in the BBMP since 2010. However, between 2008 and 2010 the BBMP was run by bureaucrats as there was no election because constituencies were being recarved.
A section of corporators, including from the ruling BJP, and engineers of the civic body are opposing the probe by the BMTF as Siddaiah ordered it without consulting the corporators.
Siddaiah has however justified his decision to seek a probe by the BMTF. He had already written to the state government to entrust the investigation into the scandal to the Lokayukta (ombudsman).
Two weeks after the BMTF was asked to probe the scandal, fire broke out Nov 19 in its office where files were stored, though officials are assuring the people and the government that documents relating to the fraud have not been damaged.
Rattled by the massive scandal coming to light within three months of his taking over, Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda has ordered the state police`s elite team, Corps of Detectives (CoD), to probe the fraud as well as the fire incident at the BMTF office.
State Congress chief G Parameshwara, however, has dismissed the CoD probe as an "eye-wash" and demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).