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New ‘light’ on trident deal

- CMC makes and sells lamps for much less than what it paid

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation has manufactured and supplied trident lamps to a municipality headed by the mayor’s father-in-law for less than 65 per cent of the price it had paid for those that line the city streets.

Maheshtala Municipality, where mayor Sovan Chatterjee’s father-in-law Dulal Chandra Das is the chairman, has purchased 400 trident lamps manufactured at the CMC’s Entally workshop for Rs 9,600 each, sources said.

That’s Rs 5,500 less than the Rs 15,100 the CMC had paid for the trident lamps procured through contractors for its beautification drive in the city.

“This deal proves that the CMC wasted public money by procuring trident lamps for a premium,” said Rupa Bagchi of the CPM, who is the leader of the Opposition in the civic body.

“The mayor is caught in a mess of his own making,” declared Mala Roy of the Congress.

Chairman Das confirmed having bought 400 trident lamps from the CMC, seeking to make a virtue out of what has been a raw deal for the civic body. “We bought the lamps at a lesser rate than the CMC. It is to our credit that we managed to get these priced so low,” he told Metro.

Mayor Chatterjee said he wasn’t as bothered about the pricing as by the timing of the sale. “I was against selling the lamps manufactured in our workshop at this juncture,” he clarified.

Opposition leaders demanded to know how the civic body could sell the lights without the mayor’s consent.

Glare on disparity in buy and sell

The mayoral council’s approval is mandatory to sell anything belonging to the CMC, but sources said its approval wasn’t sought before the transaction with Maheshtala. “This itself makes the sale illegal,” Bagchi said.

Mayor Chatterjee’s administration is already under scrutiny for handing out contracts to 605 people for around 20,000 trident lamps with each individual order restricted to a value of Rs 5 lakh.

In the CMC, a contract for a project valued at less than Rs 5 lakh can be granted at the discretion of the chief engineer.

A team of CMC officials had fixed a “fair rate” of Rs 17,600 for each trident lamp, including installation charges, for the civic body’s beautification project. The chosen contractors agreed to provide lamps for Rs 15,100 each, exclusive of installation charges.

The deal is being probed by an audit agency under the central government. The examiner of local accounts, a wing of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), has asked for information and documents on 12 points related to the installation of trident lights in the city.

“We have no idea how to explain this discrepancy. It is something we discovered only when we put together all documents,” a CMC official said.

The then director-general of the CMC’s electrical department, Gautam Pattanayak, was in charge of the installation of trident lights. But he is said to be “just a cog in the wheel”.

The examiner of local accounts has sought specific information on estimates, tender documents, evaluation, bidding, sanction, source of funding, purpose, utilisation of funds, the number of contractors engaged and the status of work, among other things, to find the roots of the alleged scam.

The CMC had started installing trident lights across the city in January. It has already spent over Rs 16 crore in buying 11,000 trident lamps.

The allegation is that the civic body spent at least Rs 6 crore more than the legitimate price for those lights.

Another question that has been raised is why buy when you can make them yourself. “We procure all our materials from the central store and use a bending machine to get the curves right,” an engineer at the Entally workshop said. “We can make 30 lamps every day.”

The price at which the CMC bought lights had apparently been fixed on the basis of retail rates of raw materials, although contractors supply the same to the CMC’s central store at far lower prices, a civic engineer said.

Writers’ didn’t raise a single objection to the rates fixed by the civic body, sources said.