Calcutta, Dec. 12: The Bengal government has punished two senior PWD engineers for poor repairs of two national highways, marking a first in a state that habitually blames its potholed highways on rain and the national highway authority.
Bibek Raha, chief engineer (national highway), and Sushovan Dasgupta, superintending engineer of circle II, are alleged to have tweaked the tender norms to allow the contractors to use substandard material and low-capacity machines.
Both were placed on “compulsory waiting” last month — meaning they are without any posting now — following a report from the Union ministry of roads, transport and highways.
Of Bengal’s 2,486km of national highways, 1,343km is maintained by the state PWD and the rest by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).
State government sources said the Union ministry had decided on a probe after NH31C and NH2B, whose repairs began early this year, developed cracks and craters within six to eight months.
“Union ministry officials said that while roads in other states remain in good condition for three to four years after repairs, the highways maintained by the Bengal government need regular repairs,” a state official said.
State officials said it’s common practice in Bengal to use low-grade bitumen and stone chips for highway repairs while eschewing the “batch mix plant” machine, mandatory for work on national highways.
But, they added, the Bengal government has “always blamed” the NHAI “without taking initiatives to clean up the system in the state”.
Senior state officials said the Left government never acted against any of its engineers because of the clout of the Federation Association of Engineers and Technical Officers.
“The Trinamul government too was reluctant in the initial days but since the Union ministry has furnished enough documents with its report, it decided to bell the cat this time,” an official said.
Another official said the timing of the action was significant. “Soon, the state government will strengthen, widen and repair national highways 31D, 60, 55 and 117. The message sent out by the chief minister is bound to have an impact on the engineers responsible for these projects,” he said.
The PWD receives between Rs 350 crore and Rs 400 crore every year from the Union ministry to maintain the roads under its watch.
“It was found that the two engineers had tampered with the tender specifications, allowing the contractors to use low-capacity machines and low-quality material,” a senior PWD official said.
Dasgupta was not available for comment but Raha said: “I have handed over charge.”
Senior state officials said the duo had been informed verbally why they were being punished.
NH31C links the Northeast with the rest of India through north Bengal while NH2B links Burdwan and Bolpur.
“The Union ministry has been complaining for years that repairs on state-maintained national highways are often not carried out properly,” a senior NHAI official told The Telegraph. “This is the first time the state government has acted on the complaint.”