PWD claims about lack of funds for repairing roads do not ring true in a scenario where Delhi Government banned work on non-Covid work when the pandemic peaked
There are two things synonymous with South Delhi roads, the consistent traffic jams and the tarred road tops breaking apart in an area banally called the posh part of town.
We found roads like Aurobindo Marg and August Kranti Marg in a sad state of disrepair. Aurobindo Marg is an important arterial road which, looking through the Public Works Department (PWD) website has two pending restoration projects. One started in July 2020 and the second in August of the same year. A third project called the ‘comprehensive maintenance’ for roads began in October 2019 – including Haus Khas Village Road and Green Park Market Road and others worth Rs 1.6 crore.
All three have missed their deadlines for completion.
August Kranti Marg, which houses some important sites, too has a ‘comprehensive maintenance’ project to its name for the maintenance of roads including Siri Fort and Asian Games Village. The project was awarded Rs 2.1 crore, started in October of 2019 and was expected to end a year later, yet the work is far from done as of now, in mid-February.
The PWD website shows that in November 2020 the project saw a payment of Rs 1.1 crore. But we found most roads chipping at this stretch, while the road outside gate no. 2 of Siri Fort auditorium had huge craters. The guard told us the craters were created over a year ago when a water pipeline burst and has been in that state ever since.
We asked Naib Chand, the executive engineer (PWD) of South division 1 and 2 under which the area comes about the double tenders for Aurobindo Marg and its pending status.
He mentions budget constraints as a big factor in projects being delayed, along with Covid, ban on construction activities as air quality deteriorated to emergency levels and then finally the low temperatures Delhi later witnessed. “During Covid regular maintenance kept going on it didn’t get affected much…but the bigger problems for which tenders are given we faced obstacles. And the budget was also the problem… usually, there isn’t a funding problem in the budget. (But) even now there’s a problem with funds.”
For August Kranti Marg whose maintenance work expands to 12-13 kilometres, he says the money came in by November (the website notes expenses of Rs 1.1 crores) but was not enough. “Say a project would cost Rs 1 crore, then just about Rs 15-20 lakh, or 25 lakh will be given. And in this project the expenditure took place in the last financial year as well as the current”.
We asked PWD’s Engineer-in-Chief Shashi Kant on the statement given about low funds. He told us the Delhi government had imposed barriers on spending in 2020 during Covid surge. “All departments, while they had budget allotments, had a restriction on spending due to Covid, which I think is the reason.”
“The Government of Delhi had given financial circulars where they had said using funds for Covid related work is fine but other things, for all the ministries – I won’t say for PWD (in particular) – they had put a restriction. You need to take permission first before making that expense, I don’t know what the reason behind this must be.”
While we were told about the lack of funds, the PWD website shows that till July of 2020 PWD had an increase in (non-tax) revenue with Rs 292 crore as compared to 2019 where till July they had Rs 52 crore only.
But with the Delhi government facing a shortage of revenue due to Covid, it could be that funds were not released to the various divisions of the PWD. During the peak of Covid which had seen a long-sustained lockdown of the city, the state excise made Rs 907 crore up to July while in 2019 it had made Rs 1,656 crore. Compare that also to sales tax in 2019 which brought in about Rs 1,540 crore till July 2019 as compared to 2020, in which till then they had made them Rs 710 crore.
But what also makes us question the usage of funds is one of the roads we saw in need of a fix which was the one outside Mother’s International School – falling on Aurobindo Marg. This road in fact has been mentioned specifically under the South division 1 as one which has been fixed under comprehensive maintenance.
The tender which was given in 2019, with the work starting on November 1 of that year was finished on October 31, 2020. The estimated cost of repairs of the said road and others, including Press Enclave Road, Asian Market Road, Khirki Road, Sheikh Sarai was awarded a tender amount of Rs 3 crore. The PWD website shows a payment of Rs 1.8 crore in August 2020.
We asked Chand specifically about the road outside Mother’s International School. He said the plan was to fix the road “as soon as possible” adding also “the ACP traffic also called to say start it immediately. So, we will be starting in a day or two”.
Furthermore, we questioned about the other restoration plans on this route. One of the spots for Aurobindo Marg from PTS red light to Yusuf Sarai and “other various roads” is with a tender amount of Rs 29 lakh. Chand only told us why the restoration was needed, “From place-to-place small agencies have cut the road to put in cable. In this road Delhi Jal Board (DJB) too has cut around IIT towards AIIMS. For all this the restoration project was taken up.”
In the second spot from Aurobindo Marg PTS red light (again) to Qutub DJB pump house (and Basant Kaur Marg) he mentioned the DJB again. “They have done laying of a pipeline. So, in this they have given us some money deposit.” He goes on to say that the Jal Board is still “cutting the road to put in the pipeline” explaining why this is still a project pending restoration.
He did say that sometimes DJB “won’t even pay the money, but due to emergency they cut the road and put their line.” Chand also stated that the constant tearing apart of roads and restoring it yet again is a common feature.
We found the DJB had also dug up roads around Green Park for laying pipelines. The owner of a local taxi company operating around the area said the digging up had taken place 25-30 days ago. “They opened the road up for a DJB pipeline. Some work in the front has been done and closed, but this still remains.”
We asked Delhi’s PWD Minister, Satyendra Jain about why restoration projects were pending from the previous year. We also asked about the claims on lack of funds hampering restoration work. We are yet to receive a response. We also emailed Delhi’s Finance department on the funds given in 2020 to the PWD, we are yet to receive a response on this as well.