Monday, April 27, 2015

Compensated, but not claimed; Completed, but not connected!

The confounding manner in which Roads & Bridges Department makes roads… and forgets bridges

The Roads & Bridges Department of the State Government, as its name suggests, is responsible for making roads, and well bridges, to connect Sikkim better. While many might rue that the hills are being scarred by too many road projects in Sikkim, it will not be surprising if not all roads end up connecting places. Such confused situations and instances of the Department being blindly unmindful of the “financial interests” of the Government find mention in the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Social, Economic, Revenue and General sectors for the year ended March 2014 tabled in the Legislative Assembly during its last sitting.
The Report includes details about a Rs. 2.57 crore road project which failed in its projected aim of providing vehicular connectivity to a Dzongu village when the project report drafter forgot to include plans for a motorable bridge to span a stream which vehicles would need to cross if they were to use the said road linking the villages of Bey and Pentong.
The story begins in June 2004 when the State Government proposed a motorable road from Bey to Pentong [Km 1st to 4th] at a cost of Rs. 1.87 crore. The Government of India sanctioned Rs. 1.50 crore for the project in December 2004 in the Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana and the balance of Rs. 37.45 lakh was to be the State’s share.
The estimated cost of the project was revised to Rs. 2.57 crore in June 2008 to include provision for land compensation. Before that, in September 2005, the work was contracted out and scheduled for completion by Sept 2006. Of course, that could not happen because neither had land been acquired [something for which funds were set aside only in June 2008!] nor had forest clearance been tied up. Work did eventually begin, but in February 2011, more than five years since the work was awarded, the contractor surrendered the work citing health problems. He had completed work worth Rs. 1.20 crore by then and the remaining was taken over by the Department for completion.
The project was eventually completed in March 2014. So, when in April 2014, CAG auditors and Department officials undertook a joint verification of the project, they should have found all in order and driven the length of what should have been a brand new road… right? Things are hardly as simple and verifications rarely end without some shocking discoveries. In the case of the Bey-Pentong road, it was discovered that the road project had been completed without a motorable road over the Tholungchu. “In the absence of a motorable bridge, the very purpose of a motorable road to establish the road connectivity from either side got defeated,” the Report spells out in case someone still missed the point. Tholungchu continues to be spanned by a suspension footbridge.
This was clearly a case of inadequate planning because none of the estimates or DPRs made any mention of the need for a motorable bridge to meet the requirements of Bey and Pentong being connected by a motorable road.
When the Department can forget the need for a bridge, it is hardly surprising that it also does not notice valuable standing property on land it has acquired for road projects, property for which adequate compensation had been paid.
Physical verification by CAG auditors of four out of nine road projects undertaken by the Department between Sept 2008 and March 2012 revealed that in addition to land compensation for these projects, Rs. 2.51 crore had been paid towards cost of standing properties [trees, bamboo, cowshed etc] on the acquired lands. These need to be disposed off and the proceed on account of sale of the standing properties are to be deposited into the government account. The auditors however found no record of such assets being disposed off of their sales proceeds being realized and deposited with the State exchequer.
The Roads & Bridges Department, it appears, informed CAG that the responsibility of removal, sales and realization of revenue in respect of such standing properties rests with the Forest Department. The Forest Department, in turn, informed CAG auditors that they had not received any correspondence from Roads & Bridges Department for removal and sale of standing properties in connection with the nine road projects being examined. Physical verification of four of the nine projects revealed that there was no standing property left for extraction from the work sites. Of the Rs. 2.56 crore paid out as compensation for standing property at lands acquired for the said nine projects, CAG believes assets [trees and bamboo] worth at least Rs. 76 lakh could have been disposed off and sales proceeds deposited into the state exchequer. That did not happen because of “inadequate action taken by the Department to safeguard the financial interest of the Government…”

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