Simultaneous surprise inspections of randomly selected Public Works department (PWD) road segments in Kerala by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) have revealed shoddy construction and poor maintenance work.
A senior official said the detections were just the tip of the iceberg. However, they revealed a corrupt, cooperative arrangement between PWD officials and government contractors that indicated cartel formation.
Kerala has about 3 lakh km of roads. The PWD roads division, PWD national highway division and Local Self-Government Institutions engineering division are responsible for reconstructing and maintaining at least 30,000 km of roads.
The poor condition of State-maintained roads had become a subject of public debate, with citizens lamenting the plight of pedestrians and motorists plagued by potholed roads and wrecked thoroughfares.
Manoj Abraham, Director, VACB, had ordered the operation, code-named Saral Rastha, based on a slew of public complaints.
The VACB found that PWD and LSGI roads often cratered before their warranty expired, resulting in fatal accidents and grievous injuries. Merely negotiating the roads caused prolapsed discs, twisted ankles, shredded tires and broken axles.
As per law, the government contractor must reconstruct the road at personal expense if it falls into disrepair during the warranty period. However, the rule remained mainly on paper. PWD officials re-tendered the work to the same contractor at a higher rate by turning a blind eye to the warranty violation.
The modus operandi accorded undue pecuniary advantage to contractors at the expense of the public exchequer.
Investigators said PWD officials passed bills submitted by contractors without verifying the quality of work.
Contractors used inferior construction materials to squeeze profits. Many did a cosmetic job to save on costly “baby chips, bituminous macadam, high-grade sand and metal”. They often used clay and lime instead of red soil with a specified elasticity, resulting in cave-ins. The VACB inspections found that the contractors had laid several roads thin.
PWD Minister P.A. Mohamed Riyas had come under sharp criticism for the poor condition of roads in the State. Leader of the Opposition V. D. Satheesan said roads in disrepair portrayed a State in decline. Moreover, the public flooded the Internet with memes lampooning the PWD and the government.