Palarivattom flyover scam: Why 4 including a former PWD secy have been remanded

Palarivattom flyover constructed at a cost of Rs 48 crore was shut down after cracks appeared on the structure.
Palarivattom flyover scam: Why 4 including a  former PWD secy have been remanded
Palarivattom flyover scam: Why 4 including a former PWD secy have been remanded
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Muvattupuzha Vigilance Court on Thursday remanded four persons accused in the Palarivattom flyover scam, including former secretary of Public Works Department (PWD) Soorej TO, to judicial custody till September 19.

Palarivattom flyover, in Ernakulam district, constructed at a cost of about Rs 48 crore was shut down as cracks appeared on the structure within two years after it was thrown open for public.

Sumeet Goyal, managing director of RDS Projects Ltd, the construction company; MT Thankachan, former assistant general manager of Roads and Bridges Development Corporation of Kerala Ltd. (RBDCK), a subsidiary of Kerala PWD; Benny Paul, joint general manager of KITCO which provided technical expertise, are others who have been remanded by the Muvattupuzha sub jail by the court.

Expert examinations by a team from Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai had even found that the flyover has major structural problems other than problems in its construction. Following this, the flyover was shut down for traffic on May 1. Simultaneously, the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) started its probe.

The third and the fourth accused in the case, Benny Paul and TO Soorej are charged for abusing their official positions as public servants and thereby providing advantage to Sumeet Goyal (accused number one) and incurring loss to the state government.

The remand report submitted by the investigation officer on August 30, also states that ‘there is every reason to believe that all the accused persons gained undue pecuniary advantage in the work of the flyover which is a sub standard one’.

Kochi city, already choked by traffic jams has been badly affected with the closure of the flyover. The flyover’s construction which began in 2014 while Congress led UDF was in power in the state, was thrown open to public in 2016 while LDF government came to power.

Facts revealed in the investigation

According to the remand report accessed by TNM, about 29 witnesses were questioned in the course of the investigation. The investigating officials had also conducted a separate quality check on the construction of the flyover.

Tests were conducted to analyse the strength of the concrete at the Kerala Highway Research Institute's laboratory. It verified that ‘out of the samples taken from six girders of the flyover, only samples of two girders met the required concrete strength. Samples taken from two pier caps and piers also failed to meet the expected concrete strength,” it stated.

Role of accused

The remand report also specifically mentions the role of each of the accused in the scam.

According to the report, the first accused and contractor Sumeet Goyal misappropriated the ‘mobilization advance’ fund amount of Rs 8.25 crore to meet  personal financial crisis and then later compromised on the quality of the construction. The misappropriation of the allotted advance amount was carried out after conspiring with the other accused alleges the report. Mobilization advance is payment made to the contractor by the client for initial expenditure of the project. It basically reduces a contractor's need to take working capital from his own pockets.

Meanwhile the second accused MT Thankachan, former assistant general manager (RBDCK), is reported to have ‘helped the contractor by intentionally selecting his bid even though it lacked sufficient documents to prove criteria of the contractor’. The report also states that the accused did not inform other bidders that there was a mobilization advance.

While RBDCK was directly in charge of the project, KITCO was the consultant of the flyover construction. As per rules, the technical report prepared by RBDCK should be evaluated by KITCO to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the project. Despite the technical report prepared by RBDCK lacking certain necessary documents, the third accused Benny Paul, joint general manager of KITCO, did not reject the proposal, alleges vigilance. Instead, Benny recommended RBDCK for the construction of the flyover.

Benny Paul was the head of the wing which supervised the construction of the flyover. He has also been accused of not properly monitoring the work. “His intentional lack of proper supervision helped the contractor to save money for himself instead of spending it on the construction of flyover,” the report states.

The VACB report also clearly mentions that there has been a criminal conspiracy between MT Thankachan, Benny Paul and Sumeet Goyal.

TO Soorej, the fourth accused in the case, held two important positions during the implementation of the project. Apart from being the secretary of PWD, he was also the member secretary of Kerala Road Fund Board (KRFB) which was the funding agency of the project.

According to the agreement of the project, 30 percent of the ‘running bill’ – issued by contractor on completion of part of the work – can be deducted as recovery of mobilization advance given during the beginning of the project. But as per the VACB report, Soorej wrote a direction to KRFB stating to deduct only 10 percent of running bill from the contractor. This, VACB says has caused a ‘huge loss to the public exchequer’.

“The condition of the flyover is so poor that it can endanger life and property of public,” the investigation officer stated in the report.

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