Mayor Defies Audit Call, Clears Trident Payment

KOLKATA: Caught neck-deep in the trident lamp muddle, mayor Sovan Chatterjee has made things worse for himself by rejecting cries for an audit and clearing payment to the contractors.The mayor has told his officers to “promptly clear payment files of contractors”, say sources. He has not only overruled the municipal commissioner’s directive for an internal audit of the controversial lights but also the governor’s query and even inquiries from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).

The CAG has been sending audit queries since August. The first reminder came in September and the second two days ago, but the mayor doesn’t seem bothered.

The mayor’s haste is not without reason. An audit – either internal or by the CAG – will expose the truth over the fixing of fair rates, say KMC sources.

The lighting department fixed the rates after taking quotations from just two small-time shops in the sanitary and fittings trade – one on Nirmal Chandra Street and the other in Shibnarayan Das Lane. The arbitrary price raised eyebrows even in the urban development department.

A TOI investigation revealed that the shop owner on Nirmal Chandra Street doesn’t even know about the development. “Nobody consulted me from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation,” he said, though the name and address of the shop figure in the KMC papers. The shop owner, instead, guided the TOI correspondent to a local pole manufacturing shop on Muktaram Babu Street that has supplied the medium-range poles according to KMC specifications.

The inquiry was revealing. The pole maker said that he sold each pole for Rs 3,500 to the KMC registered contractors, who later billed the poles at Rs 5,800 each.

The shop owner at Shibanarayan Das Lane, off Bidhan Sarani, told a similar story. He supplied the lamp and fittings for Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 while the KMC contractors quoted the rate as Rs 2,965.

When there was a furore over the trident controversy, KMC asked the contractors to cut their bills by 40%. This, in itself, was an admission that the bills are far above the market rates, say sources. On Sunday, the mayor ordered his officials to clear payment of 75% to the contractors. “Why is the mayor hesitant to clear the entire bill? There is something seriously wrong in the entire procedure. It needs to be investigated but the mayor isn’t coming clear,” said KMC Opposition leader Rupa Bagchi.

The controversy refuses to die down even after heads rolled in the KMC headquarters. DG (electrical) Gautam Pattanayak was shunted out, but the mayor is silent on the others who signed on the rate documents, including the now acting DG (electrical) Monobrata Bose.

The mayor puts up a brave front. “I didn’t do anything illegal. What I did is well within the rules. Contractors worked for the KMC. There is no reason why they should be kept waiting,” he said.

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