The solid waste management system in Bengaluru has been soiled by corruption, turning out to be dirtier than the garbage it was meant to clean. Using more than 5,000 non-existent Pourakarmikas (city sweepers), contractors have been allegedly siphoning off money from the city administration, a recent audit has revealed.
In the initial information provided to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), the Department of Urban Development (UDD) has said that this malpractice has resulted in the contractors appropriating Rs 550 crore of taxpayers’ money. The ACB is expected to file an FIR and begin the probe into the case soon.
Even though a recommendation for a probe has been made, political pressure is likely to weaken the proposal to crackdown on the contractors.
The Mammoth Garbage Scam
The garbage disposal in Bengaluru works on a contract-based system, where individual contractors are given the job of cleaning specific parts of the city. The sweepers or Pourakarmikas who clean the streets are employed by contractors.
Bengaluru’s civic body, the BBMP, pays the contractors a large sum, which includes the salaries to be paid to the sweepers as well. BBMP has been paying contractors for more than 32,000 cleaning staff, including 19,000 pourakarmikas. However, the civic body later discovered that there were only 12,000 pourakarmikas working in the city.
Several fake accounts were allegedly created by the contractors. In one case, seven people were registered under the same name by a contractor.
The Audit That Revealed the Scam
These irregularities came out when BBMP conducted an audit. All the contractors were asked to file information about all the pourakarmikas employed. The subsequent report revealed there were 32,000 pourakarmikas in Bengaluru.
Verification of these numbers showed that contractors had added names of autorickshaw drivers, helpers, and supervisors to the list. Once these names were filtered out, there was a vacuum of around 5,000 pourakarmikas. These were non-existing pourakarmikas, for whom, these contractors were drawing salaries.
Contractors Oppose Biometrics
The initial audit, however, did not reveal the total number of bogus workers. So, BBMP introduced a biometric system to get the exact figure. Machines were sent to different wards to take account of the number of pourakarmikas working in each ward. In one of the wards, during the initial days of the project, BBMP found that only 60 percent of the sweepers were employed.
Before they could take the project further, there was severe criticism and strikes against them. Not surprisingly, the objection came from the contractors. Although they didn’t directly oppose the biometric system, other reasons were cited to stall the process.
Doing Away with the Contract System
Last month, the state Cabinet decided that all payments to the pourakarmikas would be made directly by the Karnataka government. This was to prevent corruption.
However, garbage cleaning in the city has two parts to it – the sweepers and vehicles used for the disposal. The latter has been used by the contractors to deter the government from making direct payment.
“The government doesn’t own a fleet of vehicles for disposal of garbage. So, even if the government removes the contractors and starts paying the sweepers directly, they are dependent on the contractors for vehicles. So, when the government made the decision to take away salary money from contractors, they threatened not to provide the vehicles to the government,” said a senior BBMP officer, who is part of the decision-making.
However, in public, the contractors don’t refuse to provide the vehicle. “While staging the protest, they claim that without control over the sweepers’ salaries, they will not be able to manage work,” he added.
Anti-Corruption Bureau To Probe Case
MN Reddi, Director General of Police, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), told The Quint that a case of alleged corruption in the solid waste management system in the city has been referred to the ACB. However, the details of the case are not available, said the officer. “We are yet to register the case and begin the probe, as the department is yet to provide all the details regarding the matter. We will be able to share more information once the details come to us,” he said.
However, the issue of garbage clearance in the city is not straightforward. One of the two biggest contractors in Bengaluru is related to a Cabinet Minister, while in other cases, the contractors are the local Corporators themselves. This political nexus has, as a result, not just cost the BBMP Rs 550 crore but has also created a huge pressure from within to stall the reforms in the solid waste management system.
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