After near-disaster, companies building Madhya Pradesh dam blacklisted; The shadow of the scam remains

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Residents of 18 villages had to be moved to camps when the dam being built cracked.

Bhopal:

Madhya Pradesh’s BJP government has blacklisted two companies – allegedly linked to party leaders – for failing to complete construction of a dam on the Karam River, which was at the center of a near-disaster in the Dhar district last week. This project, outdated for a year, is also at the center of a corruption scam.

The Rs 113 crore dam is part of the larger irrigation scheme – worth a total of Rs 304 crore – which includes canals.

The blacklisting now, at the very least, means that these two companies – ANS Construction of Delhi and Sarthi Construction of Gwalior – are no longer eligible for government contracts. There are allegations, however, that these companies had also been blacklisted earlier, only to then get projects again. The government did not respond to this.

Works for the dam were awarded to ANS in 2018 for Rs 113 crore. This company immediately hired Gwalior Sarthi company for this, at less than Rs 100 crore. This subcontract with Sarthi had the necessary government approval.

Cracks in the partially constructed dam surfaced on August 11, two days after its extended deadline expired. The work started in 2018 was to be completed last August. An extension was granted until August 9 this year.

A probe is now underway to determine the responsibility of the dam which gave way to pressure in its reservoir after heavy rains.

Thousands of people from 18 villages had to be evacuated due to fears of flooding. Emergency canals were dug to evacuate the water and save the situation. Flooding was averted, but whatever was built from the dam was washed away in the process.

The incident has brought back into focus an ongoing and wider investigation into the Rs 3,000 crore electronic tender scam. This project is one of those under study, the government told the assembly.

Congress alleges that Sarthi’s promoter was the “mastermind” who engineered the defection of Congress MPs in 2020, which led to the downfall of Kamal Nath’s government. He did not respond immediately. But the BJP has denied any connection, as has its senior minister Narottam Mishra, who held the water resources portfolio when the works were awarded in 2018.

Initially, a Gujarat-based company won the contract in 2018, when the previous BJP government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan was in place. This was canceled as the company’s name appeared in the e-tendering scam. An investigation has begun. However, no cases have been recorded.

Meanwhile, ANS Construction of Delhi secured the job, which it then awarded to Sarthi.

This all happened just weeks before the 2018 elections, in which the BJP lost power after 15 years.

When Congress came to power under Kamal Nath, a police case was finally filed in 2019. It pegged the losses at Rs 3,000 crore.

It may be higher. The scheme has been in place since 2014, which means the shadow of the scam looms over dozens of tenders for nearly Rs 3 lakh crore.

But the investigation hasn’t made much progress since Shivraj Singh Chouhan successfully overthrew the Congress government in March 2020. Police have booked officials from some companies that won the tenders. Two IT companies carrying out the work were also implicated.

The closest cops to hitting anyone political was when they arrested two secretaries of Minister Narottam Mishra, who now holds the powerful Home portfolio. These secretaries, released on bail, remain in post at his place. He has denied any connection to the scam and has said in the past, “They started the game. We’ll finish it,” in a reference to Congress.

Tulsi Silavat, who is currently Minister of Water Resources, said yesterday, “There is no truth in the allegation that BJP leaders are close to the company building the dam.”

But he added: “It doesn’t matter who was here before me. I just know that we won’t spare the culprits, even if they belong to our party. I want the truth to come out in the online bidding scam.

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