Around three weeks back, the government had shunted out of the Corporation of Chennai this top official named – Vijay Pingale with a reputation for being highly competent and scrupulous. This was just three days after he named contractors who botched up road work in the city and fined them in an unprecedented move towards transparency by the civic body.
He was transferred.
Corporation works department joint commissioner Dr Vijay Pingale received the transfer order from the chief secretary on November 14. The government had moved him to the industries department as joint secretary. Pingale, an MBBS graduate and IAS officer of the 2004 batch, spearheaded several initiatives in 16 months as joint commissioner in the corporation, most notably in the road quality control wing.
Officials said on condition of anonymity that the powerful contractor lobby was responsible for the decision to move Pingale out of the corporation.
“The timing of his transfer, only days after he penalised contractors responsible for poorly laid roads, is no coincidence,” an official said.
On November 11, the corporation, under Pingale, made public the names of nine contractors who it said would have to reimburse the civic body Rs 2 crore for repairs it carried out on stretches laid by them. Pingale had promised to name other contractors for poor work and said the total penalties were likely to rise.
“The penalties infuriated the contractors,” a corporation engineer said. “Pingale insisted on accountability and never buckled to political pressure. This obviously did not go down well with some people.”
Even Ministers didn’t like it.
An official who attended a monsoon review meeting headed by minister S P Velumani last week said the minister and other officials had taunted Pingale for being a straight arrow. “It appears that [the minister and senior officials] decided that Pingale had to go,” he said.
“It was because of his expertise that we were able to limit waterlogging when it rained,” the official said. “If he remained in the corporation for two more years or so, he could have truly helped it move forward.”
Pingale’s associates said they were shocked to learn that the government had shunted him out. They said the transfer would affect work on ambitious corporation projects such as a pedestrian plaza in T Nagar, state-of-the art public toilets for the city and a bicycle-sharing project to reduce vehicular congestion, not to mention the his abortive attempt to give the city better roads by making contractors accountable for their work.
The real crime?
The officials said inferior work by the contractors, who have admitted to forming a cartel to bag contracts from the corporation, as also to using material of poor quality to lay roads because have to bribe councillors at least 10% of the cost of any project, and corruption at various levels in the corporation had left the city’s roads potholed and broken with the first monsoon rain.
Another corporation official said Pingale had set up a quality control wing in the corporation six months after he joined. “There was resistance to the move because assistant engineers would not be able to make money from contractors if they report poor quality of work,” the official said.
“Pingale is an honest man with good intentions but he did not know which strings to play.”
As head of the works department, Pingale was second only to corporation commissioner Vikram Kapur and handled major duties in the civic body including roads, buildings, bridges, solid waste management, storm water drains, electrical, mechanical engineering, planning and investigation.
Now that Chennai is really in ruins, may be the citizens will know who the real villains were. Don’t’ we?
The Original story was published in The Times Of India.