Two successive mishaps at site of the bridge have blown the lid off rampant corruption and favouritism.
Graft and nepotism at the top level have marred the ongoing work of the multi-crore Bomikhal flyover in Odisha’s capital city of Bhubaneswar. The project is literally going nowhere even after the loss of two lives in as many mishaps at the construction site within a span of eight months. Inefficiency and negligence have also delayed the project by three years beyond its deadline and pushed its cost to two and a half times more than the original estimate.
The Bomikhal flyover has gone the Signature Bridge way in the national capital, which, once completed, would connect the inner city with Wazirabad across Yamuna. Hanging over the river for several years now, the landmark roller-coaster bridge is mired in environment clearance, lack of funds and non-payment of dues. It is said to have missed the extended deadlines five times.
The Varanasi tragedy brought back the grim memories of the two successive mishaps that took place at the site of the under-construction railway-cum-road overbridge coming up in Bomikhal, a thickly populated area as well as a commercial hub of the city, making life miserable for the commuters in general and the local residents in particular.
When a portion of the flyover caved in for the first time on 10 September last year, citizens thought that it would wake the state government up from slumber and its construction, which was going on for the past seven years, would be put on fast-track and the project would be completed within a short span, providing immense relief to the locals in addition to easing traffic woes at the busy intersection. A businessman was killed in the incident while his daughter was fortunate enough to survive after prolonged treatment. However, another mishap occurred at the very same site earlier this month claiming the life of a labourer and leaving 16 others struggling for life. But the state government failed to do anything substantial except for taking customary steps such as making arrests, launching investigations and announcing compensation packages for the victims.
In the eye of the storm over the twin incidents is Pratap Kishore Panda, the owner of construction company Panda Infraprojects (India) Pvt Ltd, which was commissioning the project. He is known for his proximity to many top leaders, including senior ministers, of Odisha’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), as well as top bureaucrats in the government.
Panda’s excellent relationship with prominent BJD leader and former minister Arun Kumar Sahoo is well known. Another person who has also come under scanner is Public Works Secretary Nalini Kanta Pradhan. Both Sahoo and Pradhan are said to have invested heavily in the construction firm. This is the reason why Panda Infra is alleged to have cornered many projects in the state.
The order for the Bomikhal bridge was issued in 2012 at an estimated cost of around Rs 21 crore with a deadline to complete the work by 2014. But the project not only got delayed, even the design of the flyover was changed midway from “L” to “T” shape. The revised estimate was put at around Rs 40 crore and the deadline was extended to 2015.
It is said that while Sahoo was instrumental in Panda bagging the project, Pradhan approved the change in the design though it was not there in the original plan. The Works Secretary is also said to have exercised his influence in Panda getting the same project back though the latter’s company was blacklisted and barred from the project after the first incident.
Talking to The Sunday Guardian, former MP and Utkal Bharat leader Kharbela Swain pointed out that not a single government servant has been punished under the Right to Public Services Act since its enactment in 2012. The legislation was brought in by the present government with a view to regulating the service sector and thereby ensuring timely delivery of quality service to the people.
Swain alleged that though as many as 326 services fall under it including public works, the Act has been rendered ineffective by the same establishment despite the fact that the government is virtually run by the bureaucracy. Even the ministers are powerless vis-à-vis the babus of their own department under the present ruling dispensation as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik doesn’t act against the officers who are found corrupt or inefficient, he alleged.
When the first Bomikhal mishap occurred, the CM himself was holding the Public Works portfolio. Later, when Prafulla Kumar Mallick was made Public Works Minister last March, he had stated that work worth only Rs 4 to 5 crore of the project was left and it would take just two more months to complete it. But that did not happen.
Pradhan has meanwhile been given a year’s extension on the post after retirement on 31 March 2018. The extension came even though fingers were pointed towards him after the first mishap. Now, he is facing a public interest litigation (PIL) in the High Court against his extension. Pradhan is alleged to have been involved in many corruption cases earlier also but he continues to enjoy political patronage.
Moreover, Pradhan’s blessings for Panda are not only limited to the Bomikhal project alone. Grapevine alleges that due to Pradhan’s influence, Panda has been able to cling on to the Jatni project despite serious corruption charges and a court case against Panda Infra in the project.
Pradhan is sitting pretty even after the second Bomikhal mishap. It’s now anybody’s guess as to why a bridge, which was supposed to be completed in 2014, is nowhere near completion even after three years’ delay and loss of two lives. The project has so far seen many extensions of deadlines while the outlay has escalated to Rs 55 crore due to cost overruns.
Pradeep Purohit, BJP MLA from Padampur constituency in Bargarh district, has alleged that construction firm Panda Infra has donated Rs 10 crore to the BJD coffers for its Swabhiman Samabesh programme in return of these favours. He pointed a finger at Sahoo and Pradhan for the situation and accused the Chief Minister of not taking strict action against the guilty.