After Near-Disaster, Madhya Pradesh Blacklists Firms Building Dam; Scam Shadow Stays

The project is already among those being investigated since 2018 in a Rs 3,000-crore corruption scam in the e-tendering system; BJP denies links

After Near-Disaster, Madhya Pradesh Blacklists Firms Building Dam; Scam Shadow Stays

People from 18 villages had to be shifted to camps as the dam under-construction dam cracked.

Bhopal:

Madhya Pradesh's BJP government has blacklisted two companies — allegedly linked with party leaders — for not completing the construction of a dam on the river Karam, which was at the centre of a near-disaster in Dhar district over the past week. This project, past deadline by a year, is at the centre of a corruption scam too.

The Rs 113-crore dam is one part of the larger irrigation plan — total worth Rs 304 crore — which includes canals.

The blacklisting now, at the very least, means these two firms — Delhi's ANS Construction and Gwalior's Sarthi Construction — aren't eligible for any more government contracts. There are allegations, however, that these firms had been blacklisted earlier too, only to then get projects again. The government has not responded to that.

Work for the dam was allotted to ANS in 2018 at Rs 113 crore. This firm immediately hired Gwalior firm Sarthi for it, at less than Rs 100 crore. This sub-contract to Sarthi had the government's necessary approval.

Cracks in the part-built dam showed on August 11, incidentally two days after its extended deadline had passed too. Work that began in 2018 was supposed to be finished by August last year. Extension was given till August 9 this year.

A probe is now on to fix the responsibility for the dam giving way to pressure in its reservoir after heavy rains.

Thousands of people from 18 villages had to be evacuated as there was fear of flooding. Emergency channels were dug to release the water and save the day. Flooding was averted but whatever was built of the dam got washed away in the process.

The incident brought back into focus an ongoing, wider inquiry into the e-tendering scam of Rs 3,000 crore. This project is among those being investigated, the government has said in the assembly.

The Congress alleges that Sarthi's promoter was the “mastermind” who engineered defection of Congress MLAs in 2020 that led to the fall of the then Kamal Nath government. He has not responded in the immediate. But the BJP has denied any links, as has its senior minister Narottam Mishra, who held the Water Resources portfolio when the work was assigned in 2018.

Initially a Gujarat-based company got the contract in 2018, when Shivraj Singh Chouhan's previous BJP government was in place. That was cancelled as the company's name came up in the e-tendering scam. A probe began. No case was registered, though.

Meanwhile, Delhi's ANS Construction got the work, which it gave further to Sarthi.

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

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

It may be higher. The system has been in place since 2014, which means the scam's shadow runs over scores of tenders for nearly Rs 3 lakh crore.  

But the the probe hasn't progressed much ever since Shivraj Singh Chouhan managed to topple the Congress government in March 2020. The police have booked officials of some companies which were awarded the tenders. Two IT firms carrying out the work have also been blamed.  

The closest that cops came to touching anyone political is when they arrested two secretaries of minister Narottam Mishra, who holds the powerful Home portfolio now. These secretaries, who got bail, remain posted with him. He has denied any connection with the scam and said in the past, "They started the game. We will finish it," in a reference to the Congress. 

Tulsi Silavat, who is Water Resources Minister at present, said yesterday, “There's no truth in the allegation that BJP leaders are close to the company building the dam." 

But he added, “It does not matter who was here before me. I just know will not spare the guilty, even if they belong to our party. I want the truth to be out in the e-tendering scam.”

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