Tamil Nadu

Bitumen prices: HC seeks status report from DVAC

Pulls up Highways Secretary for saying there was no criminality involved in the case

The Madras High Court on Friday called for a status report from the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) on the ongoing investigating into alleged failure on the part of State highways department officials in not reducing payments made to civil contractors entrusted with the work of laying roads in consonance with the falling prices of bitumen since 2014.

A Division Bench of Justices M.M. Sundresh and M. Sundar sought the report within four weeks. The judges took exception to a counter affidavit filed by the Secretary, Highways and Minor Ports Department, stating that there was no criminality involved in the matter. They said such a statement was unwarranted when the matter was under investigation.

“How can you (Highways Secretary) say there is no criminality involved? To put it mildly, we should say we are not surprised by such a statement. It can never be the stand of anybody, including the court, at this stage. It is a matter for investigation,” Mr. Justice Sundresh said before directing the State government to file a better counter affidavit after deleting the statement.

RTI activist’s allegation

The observations were made during the hearing of a public interest litigation petition filed by G. Balaji, an RTI activist, seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the issue. He alleged that the government allowed as many as 16 Divisional Engineers involved in the scam to be promoted and 19 to retire from service.

On the other hand, Advocate General Vijay Narayan told the court that generally payments made to contractors would mostly be on the higher side since the cost of raw materials, such as cement and blue metal, rarely decreased. Claiming that the prices of bitumen alone began to fall suddenly due to a drop in prices of crude oil, he said it took two to three months for the government to realise it.

The State noticed the falling trend in prices of bitumen only in the beginning of 2015 and immediately began taking corrective measures, the AG added. Pointing out that the government had recovered ₹598 crore from the contractors as on August 31 this year, he accused the petitioner of having filed the case on the wrong presumption that the State had not recovered any money at all.

“He (petitioner) claims that some ₹ 750 crore have to be recovered, but I don’t know from where does he get those figures. As far the State is concerned, we have recovered the money in full,” the AG asserted.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 8:46:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/bitumen-prices-hc-seeks-status-report-from-dvac/article19894092.ece

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