CPWD: Despite case pending in court, DG clubs contracts to enable ‘big-ticket corruption’

The dismantling of the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) is being undertaken no longer at a snail’s pace, but almost at breakneck speed

CPWD: Despite case pending in court, DG clubs contracts to enable ‘big-ticket corruption’

Ashlin Mathew

What is becoming increasingly clear is that several institutions and departments are being destroyed by the Modi government. The dismantling of the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) is being undertaken no longer at a snail’s pace, but almost at breakneck speed. This must be due to the fact that a case was filed in the High Court regarding the illegal appointment of CPWD DG Prabhakar Singh. The Delhi High Court has served notices to the Central government on March 19, 2019, and the DG to respond within four weeks.

Despite the case being in court, the Director has sent an office memo changing rules of calling for tenders. He has stated that there can only be one contract for day-to-day maintenance and works of addition, alterations, special repairs and upgradation per site. The memo states that ‘wherever many agencies are engaged, the allotters have inconvenience due to frequent entry of their workers, unhygienic condition and co-ordination problems within different agencies’. As a result, it has been decided that ‘only one contract for the works other than day-to-day maintenance shall be made’.

To explain this further, one must realise that CPWD has four divisions—Architecture, Civil, Electrical and Horticulture. Once a project is obtained, each division would advertise tenders for their line of work. This meant that several smaller contractors would get the jobs done at a much lesser cost in each of these divisions. The smaller tenders would start at ₹15 lakh for Class V of jobs and would go above ₹100 crore for Class I AAA.

With the consolidation of these contracts, each tender now will be upwards of ₹60 crore. While this gives the impression that combining small tenders would reduce corruption, what it would lead to is big-ticket corruption and these tenders are being given for three, five and 10 years. Earlier the contract of each tender was for a year, ensuring the possibility of changing contractors if the work was not up to the standard required.

The job which could have been done by smaller contractors will now be done only by bigger contractors at a much higher rate. What this means is that many of the smaller registered contractors who have up to 100 labourers working with them would go jobless in this already job-deficient environment.

This move is set to benefit only bigger contractors and eliminating smaller contractors. This points towards the fact that the corruption within CPWD would now run into crores per tender.

Earlier, if there were both civil and electrical works on a site, the department with the higher amount of work would call the tender for both the works, now after this rule, only a chief engineer can decide which department will call the tender. In Delhi, there are eight chief engineers and not so surprisingly, five of them are from the electrical department. The DG Prabhakar Singh is from the electrical division and he had promoted several juniors out-of-turn. This is despite the fact that majority of the work are civil in nature.

What is being suggested, according to sources, is that once a new government comes to power after elections, there will be a whole host of orders for renovation from new MPs. This memo is meant to help a few contractors as the bills of these renovation works will run into crores.

What are the other issues plaguing CPWD?

The wives of the CPWD officers had begun a CPWD Officers’ Wives Association (OWA) in 1971 and is now a registered welfare society. The association is headed by the wife of the incumbent Director General (Works) CPWD and is based in New Delhi. So, now, it is Prabhakar Singh’s wife Deepa Singh who heads the Association.

Earlier, the society would organise a fete or cultural events to raise money, but it has been discontinued as it was a tedious job to organise these events. It had led to various difficulties. Instead of figuring out a solution, Deepa Singh wrote to her husband, the DG Prabhakar Singh, on August 30, 2018, to ask all the CPWD officers to donate a day’s salary to the Association to enable them to continue with their ‘socio-welfare’ activities.

The Association was begun by Rachel Muthachen, the wife of the then serving Chief Engineer. She had in the early 70s organised women to come to her residence, stitch clothes and sell them to raise money to help workers and their families. Now, the organisation has grown and is there is an OWA in every state. The website run by the Association also states that it provides creches at construction sites and organises programmes for women empowerment.

Instead of suggesting that the Wives Association should come up with novel ideas to raise money, Prabhakar Singh sent an order the next day, on August 31, 2018, asking all officers to donate a day’s salary. He followed it up with another order a month later on October 1, 2018, reminding officers to contribute. He states in the memo that the ‘donations can be sent to either CPWD Officers’ Wives Association or to Director (Tech & PR)’. According to sources, at least ₹25 lakh was collected in cash for the Association.

Five days after this collection drive, the Tech and PR unit sent out a memo based on the advice of Deepa Singh to CPWD OWAs outside Delhi. In the letter KS Gaur, an executive engineer, asked all assistant-director generals (ADG), special director generals to send details of local OWAs and copies of pass books along with the names and contact number of the contact person.

In less than one-and-a-half months after this move, Deepa Singh wrote to all the presidents and general secretaries of the CPWD Officers’ Wives Associations across the country asking them to close the bank accounts in various states. She stated that there should only be one account in New Delhi. Singh then goes on to write that these are ‘inoperative accounts’ and that the balance in these accounts must be ‘immediately’ transferred to the Delhi CPWD OWA account.

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