Special Correspondent

Irregularities in tenders alleged by opposition parties

Minister admits mistake committed by officialGovernment has decided on cost escalationMinister offers to place all documents before SpeakerTDP members' suspension revoked

HYDERABAD: The Government found itself on the backfoot on Thursday against a concerted attack by the entire Opposition over alleged irregularities in tenders for the multi-crore Sripadasagar lift irrigation project in Karimnagar district.

Telugu Desam Party members, who raised the issue during question hour in the Assembly, said there was a cost escalation of Rs. 381 crores at the conceptual stage itself.

T. Devender Goud (TDP) claimed that the project cost was estimated at Rs. 1,344 crores and posted on the website. Within three days, the contract was awarded for Rs. 1,725 crores and a mobilisation advance of Rs. 42 crores paid to the executing firm. He alleged that the cost was hiked at the instance of the contractor.

Major Irrigation Minister Ponnala Lakshmaiah conceded that it was a mistake committed by a Superintending Engineer. He was shifted following an inquiry and disciplinary proceedings were initiated against him.

He argued that the cost escalation was a conscious decision of the Government as a result of increasing the coverage of the project from 1.36 lakh to 2.00 lakh acres.

The increase was effected on demand from public representatives after the tender notification was issued. As demanded by Mr. Goud, Mr. Lakshmaiah offered to place all documents of the project before Speaker K.R. Suresh Reddy.

Mr. Goud, however, said the tender document was clear that the work was for two lakh acres and not 1.36 lakh acres. In the midst of slogan-shouting by TDP members, the Speaker adjourned the House for a short break. As the scenes were re-enacted on resumption, he called it a day.

Motion moved

The TDP took on the Government shortly after a two-day suspension on 31 of its members was lifted a day in advance. They were suspended on Wednesday for stalling the proceedings of the Assembly demanding a debate on the countermanding of Vizag - I Assembly bypoll.

The suspension was revoked by the Speaker after Finance and Legislative Affairs Minister K. Rosaiah moved a motion following a plea by CPI (M) floor leader N. Narasimhaiah, who termed the act undemocratic.

But, TDP members were up in arms against the Government again shortly after they walked into the House.

Opposition blamed

The Congress Legislature Party later accused the Opposition of putting forth illogical arguments with a view to stalling the work on irrigation projects. Chief Whip N. Kiran Kumar Reddy told reporters that the House had earlier discussed irrigation projects for 20 hours and the Government had organised several open public debates at the sites. He said the TDP should serve a proper notice for seeking clarifications but could not ignore the rules.

Mr. Vijayarama Rao and N. Narasimha Reddy (TRS) said it was proved beyond doubt that irregularities had been committed in the execution of the project. "The House was adjourned to save Government's face as corruption was exposed beyond doubt," Mr. Rao added.

CPI and CPI (M) floor leaders-- Chada Venkat Reddy and Nomula Narasimhaiah questioned as to why the Government chose to adjourn the House when it was confident that no irregularity had been committed. They questioned the silence of Mr. Rosaiah when the entire Opposition wanted the Government to put facts before the House.

BJP floor leader G. Kishan Reddy demanded that the Government order an enquiry into the affair, cancel the tender and initiate action against the erring officials.