Karnataka legislators are pushing for developmental works in such a manner that each one costs less than Rs 5 lakh in order to bypass the tender process, a move that raises serious doubts on transparency and fears about public money being misused.
According to rules, any project below Rs 5 lakh need not be tendered as per the Karnataka Transparency in Public Procurements Act. The tender process involves inviting public bids by contractors to execute works and the lowest bid is chosen.
Legislators, across parties, list out small projects in their constituencies that do not exceed Rs 5 lakh each. Most of these are road works in rural areas coming under the Rural Development & Panchayat Raj (RDPR) department.
For instance, DH has accessed one list prepared by a legislator comprising 18 road works, each costing exactly Rs 5 lakh. Another MLA has listed out 28 road works whose cost ranges between Rs 4.50 lakh and Rs 5 lakh.
Bypassing the tender process, it is alleged, allows legislators to entrust projects to contractors they prefer. It is estimated that thousands of such small projects costing Rs 5 lakh have been sanctioned without any tendering.
“This is a major issue,” a senior officer said. “Since the entire action plan (for a constituency) is driven by the MLAs, whatever list of works they submit is like this, where works uniformly cost Rs 5 lakh or below. This will create thousands of works, which makes it difficult to monitor. Besides, how much work can you get done with Rs 5 lakh?”
The officer pointed out that one long stretch of road requiring facelift is split at every 200-300m, which is then shown as a work in itself.
The practice of breaking up works into smaller ones to avoid tendering is not confined to MLAs; even Zilla Panchayat members do this, apparently.
Data accessed by DH shows that there are 1,011 such small works sanctioned across 25 districts under funds meant to repair infrastructure that sustained damage in the August 2019 floods.
“We’re getting a lot of proposals for very small works and we’re of the view that this might not result in good quality, long-lasting work,” RDPR principal secretary LK Atheeq said, when contacted.
“We’re trying to impress upon officials to talk to MLAs about splitting works to avoid tenders. We’re also going to put this as a condition on government orders that works cannot be split up,” he said.