Shimla, Feb 9
Advising to inverse the water supply model for Shimla city, former Deputy Mayor of Shimla Tikender Singh Panwar has stated that it is not economically, financially, or environmentally sustainable, nor is it in the interests of the people of the state.
In a letter to the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, the former Dy Mayor added, “I would like to seek your urgent intervention in the Shimla Jal Nigam Prabandhan Limited(SJNPL), a water utility catering to the needs of the Shimla planning area.”
Shimla Development Plan not suitable for capital, flawed: Tikender
Stating his suggestions, Panwar urged the State government to Scrap the SJNPL that has been registered under the companies act by the previous government. Adding,” rename the utility as it was done in the year 2016-17, Greater Shimla Water Supply & Sewage Circle(GSWSSC).”
He further demanded to transfer this entire utility to the Shimla Municipal Corporation, which Panwar stated, is and should have been the sole agency to run water and sewage utility in Shimla town, as mandated under the 74th Constitutional Amendment.
Also, he firmly demanded to form an SIT to ensure that those who have defrauded swathes of money are taken to task; the politicians, bureaucrats, and officers.
Quoting the reason for asking the CM office intervention, he added that the transformation from Shimla Water Works to GSWSSC took place during the term when Panwar was serving the city as deputy mayor along with the council and mayor, Sanjay Chauhan.
The formation of this utility was not pre-planned and, in fact, evolved from an accident, he added. This was the outbreak of hepatitis in the city, which had led to several deaths and hundreds falling sick. “We had three major options to go ahead with: firstly, the model of Delhi Jal Board, second, to hand it over to the state government and third, to form a utility under the Shimla Municipal corporation with a fair amount of autonomy-both fiscal and administrative.”
Adding, “We chose the last one and after many back-to-back meetings with the state government and the world bank, a tripartite agreement was reached. This is how the GSWSSC came into being. Financial support of $ 250 million was agreed upon landing on three major tasks-lifting water from the Satluj River, improving the water distribution, and wastewater treatment. Of the $250 million, $ 90 million i.e., 36% was supposed to come from the government of HP,” he informed.
In 2017 a new municipal corporation was sworn in. In the same year, Congress lost the state elections and BJP won. They decided to transform it into a company and transferred all the assets to the newly formed company, SJPNL. The company was registered with an equity of 51 % share of Shimla MC and 49 % of the state government. However, the administrative control was completely in the hands of the state government. A board of directors was formed with the chief secretary as the chairperson, informed the former Dy Mayor it was astonishing that the chief secretary who has to look after the state was overviewing the work of a utility for a town!”
The basic theory for the transformation which the previous government advocated is: “for effective, autonomous WSS institution, embedded in a policy framework that incentivizes efficiency, accountability, and performance.”
However, what we are witnessing is sheer cronyism on the part of the execution of the projects, massive corruption at the behest of previous government and officers, falling standards of work, and completely inefficient management, he alleged.
Former Deputy Mayor added that in 2017 the utility shifted from the government to a company. The bulk water supply from the Satluj River should have been completed by now. But what has happened? In order to favour the contractor company(owner), who is a close associate of the previous government, the conditions of the tender/ contract agreement were overlooked. The company, called Laxmi Construction Company, in a joint venture with another company(of course from Gujarat) was awarded the tender to lift water from Satluj to Shimla.
Second, the process started in March 2018 and the award was made only in October 2020. One can see the efficiency of the company! One of the reasons for awarding this contract to the aforesaid company is the close association of the then-ruling dispensation with the company leadership, alleged Panwar. It has been 5 years since the process began; however, the water has yet to reach and not even 10 % of the work has been completed.
He stated there is a basic problem with the design of lifting water in itself, The region from Sunni to Shimla falls in Seismic zone V and the commensurate design of the construction should have been followed. However, this is not being done. One can imagine the huge losses that are going to happen once an earthquake strikes; feared Tikender.
There is no system improvement plan(SIP), which is the basis for any scheme to execute,” further added Panwar. Without a SIP, project execution permission is like a ‘disaster in the offing.
Panwar further alleged that in order to benefit the executing company, the project cost was revised. It jumped from Rs 250 crore to Rs 500 crore. This is a huge benefit made to the executing company and a straight loss to the exchequer. “We have been informed that the executing company is still not satisfied and more than 2,000 letters have been written to SJNPL to make a fit case for arbitration.” Adding, “None of the letters have been replied to by the SJNPL, as whenever an ex-engineer has written for the delay in the project, the person was transferred immediately; this shows the efficiency of leadership!”
Moreover, lack of democratic control is the key. The chief secretary handling a water utility does not make sense at all, commented Panwar.
Performance Based Contract
The other major scandal in the offing is the tender floated by the urban development department for a performance-based contract, simply for the rejuvenation of the existing infrastructure of distribution in Shimla. The tenders have been called 3 to 4 times in the past. Every time the conditions of the tender are changed, he alleged. Last time, just before the elections, the previous government in a hurry to pass on the award to a particular favourite, did not even give credence to the code of conduct. He informed we had intervened even at that time and wrote to the then chief secretary and country head of the world bank stating that there was a complete violation of the norms, and hence the tender was set aside.
Panwar added that now once again, the tender has been floated and there have been blatant violations in determining the conditions of the tender. Panwar stated This is being done to favour just one crony of the previous government and some of the officers who are hell-bent on awarding it to a particular company.What are the main problems with the current tender?
First, it is not based on any realistic DPR. Second there is no appraisal of the existing system of the network.
One of the important conditions that should have been kept in the tender is that those who have experience in handling or executing work with a utility in the mountains should have been given credence. However, no such clause exists in the tender document.
It has been five years, to date the R& P rules have not even been formulated. This company is working on an ad-hoc basis, and merit is completely overlooked.
There is no ownership of/in the company. The chief secretary is not supposed to take care of a utility in a town. This should be under the democratic control of the elected institution if at all this has to exist. In fact, the company model must be scrapped immediately.
There is a complete mismatch in the administrative mechanism as well. Control of an engineering utility by a bureaucrat will not and has not served the purpose.
·All that is happening is image building by doling out money from the public exchequer.
“He stated there is a complete mismatch in the wage structure as well. Some of the workers who are attending calls are paid Rs 60,000 per month, good, but those who are working at the pump houses, sewage plants etc., are paid just Rs 8,000.” The entire work is outsourced. it is not under democratic control, there is massive corruption, arbitrary decisions and inept efficiency that is leading to the failure of the utility itself. ”
He stated a company, which we all know is waiting to bag the contract with a skeleton staff, and most of them are outsourced, even with stringent clauses, and no experience of working in the mountains is not the way of running the utilities in the mountain states and cities,
Recalling earlier times Congress government working, Panwar urged Sukhu to tecall the DR Y S Parmar period. He said that in those days even when large parts of states were championing “ease of doing business” but lacked electricity, HP was 100 % electrified (the 1980s).