In the last week of July this year, when the government armed with police officials barged into their homes and asked them to vacate immediately residents of Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar, in Arumbakkam on the banks of Cooum were shocked. Though they are aware that their place of residence is not permanent, they were in a fond hope that they won’t be disturbed in the near future.
Government allotted alternate accommodation for 93 families in Puliyanthope 7 kilometers away in the flats constructed by the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board, (TN Slum Clearance Board earlier). Majority of the families felt happy. They felt that finally they have a safe roof above their head, though a worry about the amount of 1.5 lakh rupees they have to pay was nagging them.
However, when they visited their newly allotted home, it was a bolt out of the blue. The houses which were in a dilapidated condition though they were told that they are the first occupants. They could easily break the plaster with their hands. Backed by the CPM, they started agitating about the poor quality of construction and soon got media’s attention.
The government which was just 2 months old was caught in a tight spot. Thought the government was very well within its right to expel the people in the Cooum Bank, the newly sworn in government feared for its image. After CPM and VCK leaders descended on the scene and threw their weight behind the agitating people, Government swiftly moved in.
The government swiftly suspended an Assistant Engineer and an Assistant Executive Engineer who were involved in the project. The reason let out by government was that, preliminary investigation by the Board, indicated that the quality of plastering work, including the material used were not up to the required standard. These were the two Engineers who were entrusted with the task of ensuring quality.
Urban Habitat Minister TM Anbarasan and HR & CE Minister PK Sekar Babu inspected the building and said, “This government won’t be a mute spectator. Be it officials or contractors, our chief minister will not hesitate to initiate action against whoever is responsible for it.” DMK MLA, Paranthamen, moved a special attention motion in the Assembly seeking that the government probes the roll of Panneerselvam, contractors and other officials of the Tamil Nadu Clum Clearance Board (TNSCB) for the substandard construction of the slum board tenements at KP Park in Chennai. While TM Anbarasan is the Minister for Housing & Urban Habitat, why is Sekar Babu accompanying Anbarasan ? More on it later.
The building was constructed by PST Engineers, owned by one Dr. Thennarasu.
Following the uproar, Government immediately asked the IIT, Madras to examine and submit a report. The Center for Urbanisation, Buildings & Environment (CUBE) an intiative of IIT and Government of Tamil Nadu (CUBE) was tasked to submit the report and after conducting extensive examination and collecting samples, CUBE submitted its report.
It was Sekar Babu who was repeating himself that action will be taken against PST group, after receipt of CUBE report. Leave away the action taking part. Even the CUBE report was not made public. After much pressure, a 9 page executive summary of the report alone was released to public consumption.
The CUBE report exposed the tall claims of Dr. Thennarasu and also exposed the loot perpetrated by Dr. Thennarasu.
As per the CUBE report, extensive defects in cement plaster were found wherein cement content was significantly lower than the required specifications in nearly 70 percent of the samples.
Standard engineering practices have not been considered during the construction of parapet wall and barricading of large masonry opening at the corridors posing fall safety hazards, the report said. Shortcomings were observed in electronic panel room, fire panels, meter boards, and pump motors and earth pit arrangements such as missing main fuse cut outs, bus bar, improper cable dressing and missed earthing provisions pose major electrical hazard said the cube report.
Minister Sekar Babu, who promised probe after receipt of CUBE report was nowhere to be seen. In the meanwhile, anti-corruption NGO, took up this case and demanded lodging of FIR against PST Constructions.
Again it was Sekar Babu, who came to the defence of PST Construction. Making a strong defence for PST Construction, Sekar Babu said, “The contractor has been asked to repair the damages. The structure is good. But the finishing has been faulty”. He said, the state government has decided not to award any work to PST Engineering & Construction in future. How a oral blocking order could be issued against a government approved firm and in what capacity Sekar Babu issued the oral blocking order remains a mystery.
Sources in DMK, say, HR & CE Minister Sekar Babu is showing unusual interest in defending PST Constructions. Notoriety goes before PST Constructions.. Earlier too, the firm is charged with making substandard construction. PST which is constructing government medical college at Namakkal had to face a barrage of allegations when the roof of the ongoing construction collapsed. This is the gem, that Sekar Babu has been defending.
Sources in Urban Habitat department say, there was pressure on the senior officials of the Board not to release CUBE report but the officials insisted and managed to release at least the Executive Summary.
On receipt of CUBE report, show cause notice was issued to PST Constructions and Engineers on 04.10.2021. Before Dr. Thennarasu replied to the notice on 11.10.2021, the Board slapped a show cause notice asking him to explain why he should not be recommended for suspension or cancellation of the contractor registration as he failed to execute the project strictly adhering to the specifications set out in the agreement.
However, not satisfied with his reply, the Board sent a missive to him directing him to furnish a bank guarantee and indemnity bond for a period of three years. As there was no payment or reply, the Board sent a reminder on 10.11.2021. Thennarasu again sent an explanation stating that the entire work has been redone and 93% of the works has been completed. Fearing black listing, he proceeded to execute an Indemnity Bond till 08.05.2024 on 24.11.2021.
But, neither the Board nor Sekar Babu were in a position to save Thennarsu as the heat generated about the corruption in the KP Park construction became scorching. Senior officers made note entries in the note file stating that, the Board is at liberty to issue show cause notice armed with the CUBE report with or without an Indemnity Bond.
One Soundararajan is a Superintending Engineer (HQ) in the Slum Clearance Board. He was the Executive Engineer when the constructions of KP Park in Puliyanthope was done. If at all any one should be suspended it is Soundararajan. However, he was promoted as SE and from 2019 he is SE Headquarters.
Sources in the Urban Habitat Development Board say that, Soundararajan was a product of erstwhile Slum Clearance Board Principal Secretary and Managing Director Shambu Kallolikar. He was the one who awarded the tender to PST Construction after receiving huge amount as bribe and also directed his Engineers not to raise any quality issues.
This is the defence taken by Dr. Thennarasu also. He says, when the Board’s Quality Control Engineers have certified it’s quality and released the payments, there is no question of CUBE report.
Former Housing Minister O.Panneerselvam, who awarded the tender to PST, also was collecting bribe from the allottees. The list of allottees was prepared and furnished to OPS as early as August 2019. The buildings were handed over to the Board by Dr. Thennarasu in May 2019.
Till the new government was sworn in no allotments were made.
The SE HQ Soundararajan, who is on the pay role of Dr. Thennarasu of PST, promptly passed on every day file movements to Dr. Thennarasu. He was giving precise information about movement of file regarding the black listing of PST.
Sensing trouble, Dr. Thennarasu quickly moved the Madras High Court and raised several allegations against the Board and government officials. In his plaint before the High Court, he says,”after execution of indemnity bond, the plaintiff (Dr. Thennarasu) approached the officials of the Board with a request to assist them in regard to completion of the balance 7% of re-doing of works by unlocking the tenements under lock and key. The officials sternly refused to accommodate such request to unlock the tenements for re-doing the plastering and retrofitting works. But they insisted to rectify the damages occurred in fire-fighting system and to replenish the stolen electrical fittings. The plaintiff specifically refused to accede to their request in re-doing the damages caused to the electrical fittings and fire-fighting systems by the miscreants. But the Board Officials persisted in their requests to re-do the entire works, including the damages caused by the Chennai Corporation and loss caused by thefts for which the plaintiff cannot be held responsible on the flimsy ground of subsistence of defect liability period of five years exclusively at our costs. The intention of the defendant board has been exposed by their acts. The reason for non-cooperation to assist the plaintiff to access the unlocked tenements for the purpose of re-doing the work is to accuse the plaintiff Firm that they have not re-done the work within the stipulated time and thereby create a false, imaginary, and superficial cause of action to initiate unwarranted action against the plaintiff”.
Dr Thennarasu goes on to add, the Board is issuing baseless threat of Blacklisting PST, for reasons unknown. He says, the Board’s show cause notice is “High Handed” (emphasis mine).
Very interestingly, the PST construction has managed to get an ex-parte interim injunction against the Tamil Nadu Urban Habitat Development Board from the Madras High Court.
“In the considered view of this Court, the applicant has made out a strong prima facie case. Blacklisting the applicant at this stage will put the applicant to undue hardship, which cannot be compensated in terms of damages. Even if the applicant is not immediately blacklisted, that is not going to cause any prejudice to the respondents and hence, balance of convenience is in favour of the applicant. This is more so due to the fact that the applicant has agreed to carry out the repair works and make it fit for habitation. If that work is stopped, the entire repair works will come to a standstill and it will not be in the public interest.”
Many of the officials were shocked by the exparte stay of the court. A senior official on condition of anonymity said, “how can a constitutional court issue an exparte stay in favour of a corrupt firm which is all over the news ? The substandard construction by this firm is all over the news and the Executive Summary of the CUBE report was also well reported. Shouldn’t the department be asked to give it’s views before an interim relief is provided by the court ?” wondered the official.
A senior IAS officer who is privy to the developments told “this is actually a slap on the face of the government. A person, who is notoriously corrupt manages to convince the court, government pleader, a High Court and winks at the administration, this is a real shame. This should be taken up by the government with its required seriousness”.
Sources in government say that, the government is taking it very seriously and already discussion is being held with law officers about moving a Writ Appeal. The government is determined to take it to its logical conclusion said the source.
DMK MLA Paranthaman, who brought special attention motion in the assembly in this regard expressed shock about the stay order obtained by PST. He said, the government will immediately discuss and file an appeal. The government is not for saving any corrupt officials or private persons. I will bring it to the notice of Chief Minister’s office and speak to senior officials, said Paranthaman. He refused to comment about Sekar Babu’s involvement.
Several party men from the DMK are ruing privately that most of the contractors who minted money in the ADMK tenure continue to rule the roost in DMK government too. Due to the ‘previous experience’ clause in the tenders, none of the new firms are eligible and the old guards castle is impenetrable. Consequently, again ADMK politicians are making money and the major share is taken away by the DMK’s first family. Most of the low level DMK men are fuming, said a DMK leader from Villupuram.
Honeymoon period for Stalin’s government is over. He is under a microscope. Being the captain of the ship there is huge responsibility on his shoulders. Officials of the Chief Minister’s office are capable of streamlining and guiding the administration. But politics is a politician’s job. Not of an analyst nor of a bureaucrat.
Stalin should look back the recent history of 1996 assembly and 1998 lok sabha results. Voters are whimsical and they are a difficult lot to satisfy. They can’t be silenced forever with mere photo shops.