Saturday, May 10, 2008

Corruption holds up Port’s tsunami repairs

Sunday May 4 2008 08:40 IST
G Saravanan
(Repro of copy published in the New Indian Express on May 4:

CHENNAI: LONG after 2004’s Tsunami, the Chennai Port Trust (CPT) has been unable to get its ‘mooring dolphin’ fixed. The reason: corruption. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) told the Port Trust to cancel the original repair contract after it found the contractor to be “ineligible”.

The contract to construct the mooring dolphin at Bharathi dock-III, an RCC connection trestle near Bharathi dock-I and to strengthen the eastern and western block walls at the Ambedkar block, was given to Chokkaiyan Karthikeyan and Co in September 2005. The CVC began inquiring in July 2006. In February 2007, it told the CPT “foreclose and cancel” the contract.

More than a year later, only one official has been held responsible: chief engineer Chelladurai. He was moved to the National Maritime Board in January 2008, nearly a year after the CVC’s letter. Officials close to him claim he was made scapegoat. CPT chairman K Suresh claims otherwise. “I had no role in deviating tender rules to award the contract,” says Suresh. “After the tender committee meeting, I asked the chief engineer to do a technical evaluation on the bidder to finalise it, and based on his evaluation, the contract was awarded to the bidder.”

And still the mooring dolphin has to be fixed. Suresh says that the retender process is on, and will be completed within three months. CPT sources had a slightly different story to tell. “Serious deviations in procedure were made by the chief engineer at the behest of the chairman to favour the contractor,” an informed source said.

CVC guidelines say the contractor should have executed a similar work of at least 80 per cent of the current contract’s value. The estimated cost of the mooring dolphin job was Rs 9 crore, so the contractor should have done a similar job worth at least Rs 7.2 crore. Yet Chokkaiyan Karthikeyan had no experience in this field. So, the tender committee (and not just the chief engineer) changed the guideline so that the contractor only needed to have done a job worth Rs 3 crore. Further, a second bidder deliberately erred in its tender to get disqualified so that Chokkaiyan Karthikeyan would get the job. No prizes for guessing who arm-twisted the other bidder.

Finally, the job was to be completed in nine months. Six months after getting the contract, Chokkaiyan Karthikeyan had not even started. “I spent Rs 3.5 crore on equipment for the contract and they suddenly cancelled it, citing slow progress,” Chokkaiyan told this website's News Paper from Erode.

Three and a half years after the Tsunami, the repairs are yet to be done.