The opposition Congress Party has ripped into the state of the Power Department and what it says are grievous anomalies amounting to widespread “looting” of the public exchequer.
Rangsakona MLA Zenith Sangma said today that the Congress demands nothing less than a CBI inquiry to probe the irregularities.
“There are scams after scams in one department and we demand an independent inquiry,” Sangma said during a press conference at the party’s state headquarters here.
Remedial measures could save hundreds of crores rupees but the government is “adamant and reluctant” to face up to its mistakes, he added, though he also said that the powers that be are finding excuses, ways and means to loot money.
Sangma alleged that there are many corrupt practices in the Power Department, like in the implementation of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded smart meter system, the central government’s Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojana Phase I and II (to provide continuous electricity in rural areas), Ganol Small Hydroelectric Power Project, Saubhagya Scheme (for national electricity coverage) and waiver of electricity bills for industries.
He criticized aspects of the recently-announced amnesty for electricity bill defaulters. Although the Congress, perhaps mindful not to annoy the public, is in favour of waiving chargers for ordinary consumers, the party is against the scheme if it applies to industries, who it claims will be the chief beneficiaries.
If all the outstanding electricity bills in the state were paid the Power Department would net Rs 700 crore, Sangma said.
Earlier this month the Meghalaya Power Distribution Corporation Ltd (MePDCL) announced a one-time settlement for all categories of defaulting consumers, including those who have had their connections disconnected, offering to cancel 30 percent of their outstanding dues if they pay the remainder by January 31 next year, thereby rewarding those who have defaulted on their payments rather than those who pay their bills regularly.
On the smart metering system, which the government had recently said it would push through, Sangma said the whole tendering process was rigged so that only one bidder would be able to qualify.
“The bidder who qualified was to execute work of around Rs 200 crore…and not surprisingly 18 percent was enhanced above the estimated cost. If you calculate 18 percent above the estimated cost it comes to Rs 36 crore extra,” the MLA said.
He said that the department has enhanced the original estimated cost despite the government facing a financial crunch and not being able to pay salaries to the employees of the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Ltd (MeECL).
In the rural electricity scheme, Sangma claimed that the scope of the work was increased without seeking approval of the funding agency, the Rural Electrification Corporation, and that would cost the state an extra Rs 4.5 crore.
“Everywhere, whether big or small, people are not sparing to loot the state,” he stated.
The senior Congress figure also slammed the cabinet’s September decision to approve a Rs 151 crore increase in the cost of the Ganol Small Hydro Project, which the government put down to “geological surprises” besides other reasons.
“Didn’t the MeECL do soil testing before DPR (detailed project report)? They said they missed out. How is this possible? The level of work where geological surprise could occur is already crossed. The construction of the tunnel is over, construction under the surface is over, only the superstructure is left so how is there a geological surprise?” Sangma questioned.
He also found fault in the Saubhagya scheme, claiming that two companies based outside of Meghalaya – Satnam Global Infra Projects and Onycon Enterprises – were awarded work at 51 percent above the scheduled rate, leading to an expense increase of Rs 180 crore.