120 pipe-bursts in four years from 2007

Shoddy work caused an arterial drinking water pipeline laid in the city in 2007 at a cost of Rs.10 crore to burst at least 120 times in the past four years, causing a huge loss to the public exchequer, according to the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB).

Till 2011, the exchequer lost Rs.31 lakh to repair the leaks, which still recurred and continued to deprive thousands of urban households of piped water supply, often for several days at a stretch and without any warning.

The VACB was yet to estimate the cost incurred by the government in supplying potable water to affected areas during repeated pipeline bursts.

Undetected leaks

Hundreds of lesser leaks in the faulty supply lines, which were rarely detected or staunched, daily caused the loss of large quantities of potable water, channelled to the city at considerable cost from the Kerala Water Authority (KWA)’s suburban reservoirs and their treatment plants.

In 2004, the State government had contracted a private company to lay the pipelines under the Kerala Sustainable Urban Development Project (KSUDP)’s ‘Theerapadam’ scheme.

It appointed a KSUDP employee as special officer to implement the scheme and a senior engineer of KWA to monitor the work.

Engineer’s report

As per the agreement, the contractor was to ‘use a design with a life span of 50 years for the pipeline in normal commercial operation and design, engineer, and execute the work with most modern principles, with skill, care, and diligence.’

The agency found that the agreement largely remained on paper and KSUDP and KWA officials repeatedly ignored warnings from government engineers that the pipelines were being laid in a careless manner.

A KWA engineer reported to the government that the ‘contractor’s men were dragging the high-density polyethylene pipes on rough surfaces with earth-moving equipment’ and such slipshod handling would erode the structural integrity of the pipelines and make them vulnerable to leakages when charged.

He said the subterranean pipes were laid in shallow trenches, which made them vulnerable to surface pressures.

When his reports went unheeded, the engineer reported that he was ‘unable to manage the contractor and be exempted from the project.’

A government-appointed team of experts, which investigated the cause of repeated pipe bursts along the Chalakuzhy-Vayilkada-Mannanthala stretch more recently, confirmed the engineer’s fears.

It found that ‘poor workmanship, insufficient depth of the trenches in which the pipes were laid, and shoddy handling of the pipes’ caused the frequent bursts.

On Thursday, the VACB booked the contractor and the government officials concerned on the charge of conspiring to cheat the government to reap illicit gain at the cost of the public exchequer (crime number 8/2012/SRT).