New Delhi: Statement of the CAG, unveils a wholesome scam into Metro tragedy

Several tragic accidents have taken place at the Delhi Metro railway building site, involving the death of a number of workers. This has now turned into a full-scale scandal, revealing collusion, in cutting corners and turning a blind eye to the application of safety regulations, between government officials and the companies involved. It reveals how barbaric the capitalist system is.

The public statement, made by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), yesterday (17 July), has sent tremors among the political circles by exposing the whole deal of the 450 billion project of metro rail in Delhi, as a virtual scam, through and through.

The statement has come on the heels of the terrible tragedy, second in the last eight months, which had struck at the Delhi Metro railway construction site on July 12, killing five workers, and a site engineer on the spot, and leaving over 15 injured.

The tragedy occurred around 5 a.m. when over 30 employees of contractor Gammon India Limited were at work, at the elevated Central Secretariat-Badarpur line, near the Lady Sriram College in Lajpat Nagar at Jamrudpur, South Delhi, when a huge launching girder came crashing down at the site.

As the sixth segment was being placed on the stretch between pillars No. 67 and 68, the launching girder along with a portion of the under-construction viaduct caved in as the pillar cap collapsed.

20 workers, were trapped under the debris, with a few other s were injured. While three were declared dead after being pulled from under the debris, the bodies of three other workers remained trapped in the debris till evening, thus leaving six dead on the spot. The condition of two of the injured remained critical.

The toll fortunately still did not take too much, as the incident had taken place at 5 a.m. in the early hours of the morning of Sunday, which was a holiday, otherwise the accident would have resulted in a much bigger tragedy in view of the routine rush around the site.

The report of the CAG has established a direct link between the tragedy leading to the toll on human lives and limbs and the corruption, carelessness and the malpractices going on in the project with the apparent collusion between officials and authorities of the government and the company and the contractors.

Referring to its report, the CAG has made it public that in its comprehensive report submitted to the Central Government on July 1, 2008, more than a year before the recent tragedy took place, his office had duly exposed and objected to many aspects of the continuous scam in the project from beginning to the end.

The Central Government, which is bound under law to place the report of the CAG immediately before Parliament, in an unprecedented and completely illegal move, sent the report back to the CAG requiring it to include the point of view of the central government in it. This was done apparently to block the tabling of the report, and thus cover up the scam, at least for the time being, even in the absence of any power vested in the government to do so and in complete derogation of all legal requirements and established procedures.

The concerned Ministry, the Urban Development Ministry, refused even to take up the matter, on the ground, that the project has nothing to do with it. It was then exposed that the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was never put under the administrative control of any of the Ministries of the Government, deliberately leaving both the DMRC and the Central Government, unanswerable to any public institution, including Parliament, for anything regarding the whole project. It is astonishing, that though the DMRC has been allocated one of the biggest sums of money from the public exchequer, its accountability to any of the public institution remains nil.

Perplexed at the death of six people, the second time on the metro site, the Government was forced to table this report before Parliament yesterday (July 17).

“The findings have a clear and direct linkage to what we are witnessing today”, said Mr. A.N. Chatterjee, the CAG of India, directly linking the tragedies on the metro site to the scam in the DMRC.

The report has exposed that no checks and controls have been prescribed over the DMRC, and the whole deal is a ‘unique’ and ‘ambiguous’ administrative model developed by the Central Government, with no liabilities fixed. In derogation of the law and through intriguing drafting of deeds and contracts, the Company has been made an autonomous body in itself, answerable to no one.

The CAG report has laid threadbare so many calculated violations of the procedures, leading to clear inference of apparent bad faith on the part of the Government.

In the first instance, the report highlights the most fundamental breach at the time of settling of the bids of various competing companies for the contract of the construction of metro railways.

In four contracts, relaxations in commercial and technical terms were allowed after the opening of financial bids while negotiating with the lowest bidders.

Delhi Metro. Photo by dlisbona.Delhi Metro. Photo by dlisbona. This practice was non-equitable as the other pre-qualified bidders were denied the opportunity to revise their bids in view of the change in commercial and technical terms, the report states.

“There is no regular monitoring from a designated administrative ministry and the main agency to provide oversight is the Board of Directors itself”, the report said, pointing to the absence of any effective system of checks.

Furthermore, underlining the absence of independent directors to monitor the DMRC itself, the report stated, “The Board, however, did not have independent Directors in accordance with Department of Public Enterprises’ guidelines”.

Pointing out that the company has not provided automatic train operations on all lines to ensure safer operation of trains, CAG states that, “the noise levels were beyond permissible limits and there were pre-mature wear and cracking in the wheels and floor of the rolling stock raising doubts on the stipulated 30 years of design life”.

Pulling the DMRC for scaling down the testing requirements while implementing the project, the report says, “Audit analysis of quality control indicated scaling down of testing requirements, non-witnessing of tests by the company’s representatives, testing of materials in non-accredited laboratories and non-preservation of test reports”.

At another place the CAG has said, “there was a shortfall in the ridership of the system which was mainly due to higher fare structure, lack of proper connectivity and lack of feeder bus system”.

Other irregularities committed through the unwarranted and dubious practices and procedures, pointed out are: selection of consultants for projects, land acquisition in excess of the requirement and its use for other purposes, deliberate evasion in maintenance of location wise-data of land use.

The report also pointed out, “Elevated structures of the Metro have been designed with axle loading of 16.5 tons, which is not compatible with Railway standards of EMP with 20 tons”.

“The use of broad gauge has resulted in an additional cost of Rs. 2.26 Crore per annum to the public exchequer, while benefitting the contractor” the report said.

The local people in the vicinity explained that they have seen two big cracks on the pillars, involved in the mishap earlier and had informed the authorities about it, but no action was taken. However, Mr. Sreedharan said defiantly that, “Delhi Metro had not received any written complaints in this regard from the residents”. However, the stance of Sreedharan was refuted by the contractor company Gammon India Ltd, which said that the issue of cracks was deliberated with DMRC and the work was stopped for three months on that account. But then the DMRC took a decision to go ahead as it is. An injured worker at the site confirmed this saying that, “the work had been stopped on the stretch for almost three months because the pillar had developed a crack”, adding that, “Work resumed about six days ago.”

However, confronted with this hard evidence, Delhi Metro spokesperson Anuj Dayal, in his zeal to deny the allegation, revealed a yet more serious lapse, “There was a defect in the peer cap which caused the displacement" adding, furthermore, that the "Problem was in the design of the pillar and we were trying to rectify it”

The road caved in as the heavy concrete section fell upon it damaging the main pipeline, creating a flood like situation in the vicinity, while cracks appeared in the walls of nearby houses. Next day, the cranes brought for clearing the debris, could not remove the main concrete section and three of them overturned damaging the nearby shops and houses further, and injuring six more workmen. It then tuned out that the DMRC did not even care to employ the cranes of the strength sufficient to pick up the big concrete sections. Gammon India did not employ those cranes as their import from Japan is too costly and DMRC officials just shut their eyes.

Finally it transpired that the entire job had been distributed by Gammon India, to numerous sub-contractors, who are performing the work, and there was practically no one to check the construction. All this has been going on with the active connivance of the officials of both the governments, DMRC, the contractors etc. The DMRC has been converted into a money mincing machine by them, laden with unparalleled corruption.

In an answer given in the Rajya Sabha by the government to the queries of the members on July 14, it came to light that neither any Trade Union of the workers is permitted by the DMRC, nor any records of workers employed kept.

While the Rajya Sabha discussed the issue of rampant corruption in the metro rail project, it was also reported that 55 workmen had died in the first phase of completion of 65 kms over 8 years, while 45 had died in the second phase of completion of 121 kms in 4 years.

None of the provisions of the ‘Building and other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Working Conditions) Act 1996’ is being adhered to by the management.

The most condemnable part of the whole story is the big drama, which took place on the very day of the tragedy, to divert attention and fool the enraged masses. The CEO of the DMRC, 77 year old E. Sridharan, the blue-eyed boy of the bosses in Delhi, sent his resignation by hand to the Chief Minister of Delhi, Shiela Dixit, who is in fact no authority to deal with the same, saying that though he is not responsible for the mishap, on ‘moral grounds’ he is taking responsibility. The corporate media immediately triggered a campaign to sing in praise of this ‘moralist’. Within less than an hour, the Chief Minister, Sheila Dixit, joined the show, saying that, “it will not take any hasty decision and will consider what is good for the city”.

"We are not going to take any hasty decision on the resignation of Sreedharan," P K Tripathi, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, said echoing the Chief Minister herself.

Spokesman for the Lt Governor's office said, that "the decision will have to be taken at a political level." The DMRC is under the Urban Development Ministry of the Central Government and the L-G alone will not take a decision”, he said.

But then suddenly within a few hours, showing unprecedented haste, it was declared that the cabinet of the Delhi Government had met and decided not to accept the resignation. The great ‘moralist’ then withdrew the resignation.

It will remain a mystery for the legal experts as to how Sreedharan tendered his resignation with Chief Minister of the Delhi Government and in what capacity the Chief Minister rejected it, when the DMRC is under the Central Government. In any case the decision was to be taken by the LG on behalf of the Central Government. But after all a drama is a drama!

The promptitude shown by the Delhi Government was ‘remarkable’. While the Central Government took more than one year in tabling the report of the CAG before parliament, the Delhi government took hours in rejecting the resignation. Not only the decision of the cabinet was communicated, but the Chief Minister herself wrote a personal letter to the CEO, Sreedharan, singing his praise, saying that no one except him could complete the project.

Reciprocating the favour, Mr. Sreedharan said, after withdrawing his resignation, that the accident had caused a delay of three months in completion of the Central Secretariat-Badarpur line and a direct loss of Rs.6 crore to DMRC. “But the work would be finished before the Commonwealth Games in the Capital next year,” he added.

The entire episodic drama was completed by the night of the very same day of the mishap, when the deaths of workers were being mourned and the injured were battling for their lives. However, diverting the attention of the public towards the resignation drama, the high officials of the DMRC and Gammon India, escaped the criminal action for which they were liable in any case. Instead of being sent to jail, for their misdeeds and gross negligence, the officials were restored and retained. To calm down the nerves of the people, a blank FIR of the incident was however, lodged by the police, without anyone being actually accused.

However, on the issue of determining the responsibility of the officials for the mishap, both Governments remained non-committal.

On the action against those responsible for the mishap, CM Ms. Dikshit said “it was up to the Delhi Metro to take whatever action they can, because they have such a fine reputation they would not like to ruin. I am sure they will take action."

Sensing the volatility of the situation, however, later a four-member probe committee was arbitrarily constituted, by the CEO of the DMRC, Mr. Sridharan, to look into the reasons of the mishap. "The four-member committee will inquire into the accident and will submit its report within 10 days," Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) Chief E. Sreedharan told reporters.

The probe Committee includes two officials of the DMRC and two others of his choice. These include A.K. Nagpal of the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, and two officials from the DMRC - Rajan Kataria, head of the design cell, and Steven Lowry, project director for general construction. B.R. Bose of the Delhi College of Engineering is the woman member of the committee.

Notable is the fact that the report of the similar probe committee appointed to investigate the earlier mishap at Laxmi Nagar construction site, eight months ago, which claimed the lives of two workers with many more seriously injured, had also come out, but only to be put on the shelf, with no action taken at all. Probes merely serve as a tool to calm down the people, for the time being.

The CAG report has exposed the multi-dimensional scam in the entire metro project of 450 billion rupees. The scam, resulting in two big and several small mishaps, involving more than 100 lives till date, is obviously the source for filling the coffers of the political bosses, the board members of the DMRC, its executives, bureaucrats in the government and of course, the contractor MNC, Gammon India Ltd.

This whole episode, whatever the final outcome and findings are, reveals the real brutal nature of Indian capitalism, the same as capitalism throughout the world. Profits are far more important to these people than workers’ lives. The workers who produce the wealth are considered dispensable. If one dies there are many more poor unemployed workers who can take his place.

Unfortunately for the power that be, occasionally their rotten, corrupt practices are exposed and come out for public view. When this happens, they rush to try and cover up the scandal, for fear of provoking the rage of the workers. This kind of barbarism is part and parcel of capitalism. Capitalism is based on the profit motive of the few, and the profit motive leads to this kind of situation. We will only be able to put an end to all this suffering once capitalism itself is eradicated. That is the long term task of the working class of India and the world.

18 July 2009