After maintaining his silence on the criticisms levelled by the opposition Congress Party on supposed corruption in the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Ltd (MeECL), Power Minister James Sangma chose today to respond to the critics.
Congress MLA Zenith Sangma had last month slammed the government for its decision to approve a Rs 151 crore increase in the cost of the Ganol Small Hydro Project, which was initiated under the previous Congress regime.
Today James shot back that the increase was necessary because there were “deficiencies” in the survey and inspection of the project site when conducted during the time of the previous government.
According to the minister, the contractor encountered fractured rocks and loose boulders, which proved to be severe roadblocks to the progress of the project. When the National People’s Party-led government came to power it had two choices to make – cancel the project (and waste the hundreds of crores already incurred) or invest more to make the project a viable one.
“The government chose the latter,” James said. “There has been an increase in the height of the dam, due to soil stability for the project, and that has warranted a higher fund allocation.”
On the allegations made by Zenith and his brother, former Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma, on corruption in the carrying out of the central government’s Saubhagya Scheme (for national electrification), James admitted that two companies from outside Meghalaya were awarded the project at 51 percent above the schedule of rates, but these were the lowest bidders.
The Congress brothers had claimed that the government had rigged the bidding process so that lower bids were disqualified, but James said that the two successful companies were “awarded the work only after due approval from the central government.”
“All the prices quoted by the lowest bidders were verified by the central government agencies and after they approved the same, only then were the LOAs (letters of award) issued by the state government,” he continued.
The Saubhagya Scheme has been a tremendous success under the present administration, he claimed, stating that 2,146 villages have been electrified in a record 18 months.
The minister also rubbished the figures put forward by the Congress that the state-owned utilities would lose out on Rs 700 crore by the amnesty offered to industries who are behind on their electricity bills.
Sangma pointed out that, in fact, the total outstanding dues of industries in the state to the cash-strapped MeECL is Rs 180 crore, which is still a significant amount. Under the government’s amnesty, industries (and private individuals) could have 30 percent of their total outstanding dues or 100 percent of their delayed payment charges (whichever is higher) waived if they make payment by a certain date.
“At this point we do not see the need to play along the lines of petty politics of the Congress,” James said. “If they have chosen that path, perhaps that is the only way they feel they can still be seen as relevant,” he added pithily.