Engineers Spill The Beans: 'Political Pressure, Vested Interest Behind Flawed Works In JK'

3 April 2015
Greater Kashmir
Haroon Mirani

Srinagar: With recurring floods keeping the J&K government on the toes and working of its administration in public focus, the intense scrutiny has forced many officials, especially engineers, to spill the beans on failure of some of the vital 'developmental' projects in Kashmir. According to some senior engineers-who spoke to Greater Kashmir on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals-the recent demolition of a makeshift bridge over a flood channel in Srinagar is just one simple example of how projects are conceived, implemented and then demolished, with nobody batting an eyelid. According to a group of engineers-who have been closely associated with different works in Kashmir-at least 90 percent of all 'developmental projects' in the Valley are 'flawed with some posing as existential threat to people and environment.' QAZIGUND FRAUD In 2012, according to sources, a contractor persuaded few villagers in a far-off forest in Qazigund to visit their MLA and get a road sanctioned for their small hamlet. The minister obliged his constituency without inquiring about the environmental impact or feasibility of the proposal. 'Within a week, the contractor came and bulldozed a mountain to create a steep road, without any technical input or study. Few days later, he abandoned digging and started alternate alignment that suited his in-laws from another village. The villagers from first village fumed and police had to be called in to control the law and order situation. When R&B officials went there, they could only beat their heads. The mountain and forest was already destroyed and the contractor turned out to be a local road guard,' a senior J&K engineer told Greater Kashmir on the condition of anonymity. The engineers allege that 90 percent of all projects are 'made to suit a particular contractor-bureaucrat lobby.' SDH PATTAN STORY 'I once visited the site of Sub-District Hospital Pattan and was horrified to see its design. There was a labour room but no bathroom, no elevator and in the third floor, there was no provision of a simple staircase. According to the concerned contractor, bathroom causes infection, elevator won't work there and nobody needed to visit third floor and so there was no need of the staircase,' said Qazi Fayaz, a Junior Engineer. When the supervising engineer wrote a negative report and threatened to go to media, the contractor demolished few wards to accommodate the necessities, he said. 'Here one project destroys second and third is created to hide the first two,' said another engineer. 'And nobody asks why.' THE BANQUET HALL EPISODE The 'cosmetic measures', according to officials, are a favourite of people-in-charge. 'Few years back the entire Cabinet including the then chief minister was saved by sheer luck and quick thinking of an engineer,' they said. Narrating the incident, they said, in 2009, a Junior Engineer was posted at Banquet Hall as a 'punishment posting' where he required to work round-the-clock. 'On the very first day, the engineer saw Khatamband ceiling slightly swollen in its Conference Hall and emanating foul smell. His subordinate tried to pass it off as an old swelling, but the engineer insisted on having a look from above. What he saw the ceiling from above, there was a two-feet layer of pigeon droppings slowly pulling down the flimsy ceiling made of Khatamband and 6 mm plyboard. He dashed to the office and told his superiors about the situation and asked them to relieve him from his job before the entire ceiling comes crashing down on the then CM and his cabinet colleagues during a forthcoming meeting. It created a panic in the department and the superiors pleaded with the engineer to resolve the issue with full powers which he never got. It also came to the fore that the lower staff used to get rid of the stench by spraying deodorant recommended by a previous engineer. They recovered 150 bags of bird droppings and each bag was of 100 kg capacity,' a source disclosed. 'The Cabinet was thus saved from what could have been the most embarrassing accidents in Kashmir's history.' 'They never investigated the root of the problem till it became lethal, like our September floods,' the source, privy to the whole story, said. LAL CHOWK MISMANAGEMENT The modus-operandi, according to engineers, has been same in every place, with Lal Chowk 'being the prime example of mismanagement.' 'When the Jehangir Chowk flyover was constructed, nobody paid any heed to Green's Sewer, a sewerage-drainage pipe that ran from Sarai Bala and emptied near Chattabal. The constructing agency conveniently blocked the sewer and officials happily passed their bills. The result is that today, areas near Hari Singh High Street, Exhibition Road and its adjoining localities, have to face perpetual problem of water-logging,' an engineer said. Similarly the original design of Amira Kadal was to have gradual slope starting from Palladium Cinema, 'but a particular shopkeeper used his influence to force the outside contractor to squeeze the slope in between the two banks, resulting in steep sloped bridge that always gives hard time to motorists,' the engineer said. He said the Rambagh flyover and Convent School Bridge are no different. INACTION According to sources, there are hundreds of complaints and negative remarks written by supervising engineers against contractors and their projects, but no action has ever been taken. The reports are trashed, they said. 'Whenever a supervising engineer writes adversely against a project, he is first offered bribe and then threatened. When the engineer doesn't relent, the contractor-bureaucrat lobby simply gets him transferred or suspended,' said an engineer, who is suspended as on date. 'There are 20 percent engineers who are scrupulously honest, but you will always find them posted in some small cells or wings. They are asked never to come to office and salary is given to them at home.' In February, when an engineer in R&B department informed his superiors of a particular wrongdoing, 'instead of appreciation he was immediately transferred to Gurez despite such a transfer being illegal as it was the winter month,' the sources disclosed. Kashmir, according to officials, is perhaps the only place where it is hard to find a contractor or an engineer who has been fined for his faulty work, let alone being blacklisted or terminated. 'We have to macadamize our roads every year at full cost,' said Imtiyaz, an engineer, who declined to give his second name. 'Their macadam plants are of worst kind, their macadamization process is faulty and the material used is sub-standard. Few engineers tried to write an adverse report and are now rotting at desk jobs.' 'Everything is faulty, yet nobody is responsible. Last year's floods caused Rs 1 trillion damage on us, still not a single officer got any explanation while in ideal situation they should have faced a trial,' another engineer said. In Qazigund area, he said, half a dozen bridges built in 1990s collapsed before 2010. In forest areas of Baramulla, Kupwara, Ganderbal and other districts, roads are being built without keeping in view environmental concerns. FLAWED DRAINAGE SYSTEM 'The entire drainage system of Srinagar is headed towards a mega failure as the contractor and the concerned officials had no idea on how it would work. It will drown the otherwise flood-safe areas of Srinagar,' said an engineer. 'The recent collapse of a house in Lal Bazar and cracks in houses in Umar Colony is just a beginning.' EVALUATION NEEDED 'The only way to address this mafia is third party monitoring and evaluation of projects that could independently determine their worth,' said an engineer. 'For dedicated officials, you just set up a helpline which they could use whenever they are forced to pass fake bills and approve faulty projects and so on. Currently if a project fails nobody is responsible. The government has to fix the responsibility.'