Pointing out “disturbing features” in the award of contracts for repairing roads in Villupuram district that were damaged in cyclone ‘Thane’, the Madras High Court has directed the government to take note of its observations on the manner in which the tenders were split, and ensure that the procedure is not adopted in future.

The awarding of the works to a small group of contractors did not satisfy the objective and the manner in which it was done appears wholly illogical, the court said.

“From a perusal of the list of contractors in whose favour the works were allotted, we were shocked to find that though the purpose behind dividing the contract into 106 works was to ensure expeditious completion of work,… the entire 106 works were awarded in favour of about 12 contractors. From the pattern of allocation adopted for awarding the 106 works to 12 contractors, we fail to understand as to how the work could have been completed expeditiously,” the First Bench of Chief Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice T.S. Sivagnanam said in its judgment.

Originally, V. Devagi, a registered contractor with the Highways Department, filed a petition praying for a direction to the department at Villupuram to allot/award works for laying/ repairing of roads, restoration of road infrastructure facilities from funds allotted by the Revenue Administration, Disaster Management and Mitigation Department, by inviting tenders as per the Tamil Nadu Transparency in Tenders Act.

She also sought a direction to the department to strictly adhere to the instructions in the utilisation of the funds.

A single judge dismissed the petition. Hence, the present appeal by Ms. Devagi.

During the hearing, counsel said at that point of time the appellant was not aggrieved about not awarding the contract to her, but was more concerned about the manner in which the works were being allotted. The appellant had alleged serious irregularities.

The court had earlier appointed a committee to survey the entire road and submit a report on the quality of work done and the total length of the completed road. Accordingly, IIT-Chennai submitted a report.

The Bench said that tenders had been invited for 106 items of work and appropriate estimate of each of the 91 works, out of 106, was Rs.9.95 lakh. The Advocate-General said that the tenders were so divided that the work could be allotted to different contractors and completed within the shortest possible time.

The Judges said that if the 106 works were allotted to 106 contractors and each had commenced work at the same time, then the department’s reason had some justification. But, the works were awarded to 12 contractors. The department’s contention that the work was divided into 106 tenders to expedite the temporary restoration of the roads defied logic. However, as the works had already been completed, it was not dwelling further on the aspect.

The court-appointed committee found that the overall condition of most of the sections could be rated as good to fair. From the report, it was seen that the quality control test for construction of roads had not been done. “This appears to be a serious lapse.” The government should take appropriate action.

The committee’s recommendation for future tenders should be seriously considered.