• Fri. Jun 9th, 2023

Opinion | Dear Mumbaikars, Brace for Impact from Soaring Gravel Costs, Writes Aaditya Thackeray


Apr 22, 2023

Mumbai’s road tenders have been a subject of controversy since last year. While the debate over the proposed 400-km road concretisation rages on, we noticed that for over two weeks, all road and bridge works in the city have come to a halt, including other important infrastructure works and building construction. The reason being the sudden unavailability of gravel needed for these works.

Going deeper, it has come to light that apparently one gravel supplier company, formed less than three months ago, has been negotiating hard and bullying all the quarries, stone crushers and gravel suppliers to only supply through this newly formed company.

Some officials also hint at someone close to the Chief Minister standing firmly behind this company, without which, such bullying tactics wouldn’t work.

The bullying tactics, as pointed out by them, are simple. The departments pertaining to either environment or revenue seem to have been used in many cases to issue closure orders, in the name of various violations, to most of these stone quarries last month. Some have even been closed without formal notices.

They have apparently been told that they would only be allowed to restart on signing exclusive supply contracts with this stone-supply company.

While the reasons for notices may be debated, it is understood that the only companies allowed to supply now have signed an exclusive contract with this company formed less than three months ago.

This has resulted in not just a two-week delay in all the infrastructure works, potentially breaching the pre-monsoon deadline of May 31, but also the cost of gravel supply going up more than double of what it cost two weeks ago.

What this means for all of us as citizens is that all the ongoing construction and infrastructure works will suck out more of our hard-earned money paid up as taxes.

We may not see the direct link of cost escalation of these projects with the taxes we pay, but surely, this company, the people behind it and some of the favourite contractors earn more at our cost, per day, in crores.

Many of the roads under repairs or under construction, that need to be brought to a “safe stage” before monsoons, will not meet the deadline. For example, the Delisle Road Bridge, the Gokhale Bridge and most of our bylanes will not see completion on the dates originally proposed by the BMC. The reasons given for the delay may officially vary from steel to designs, but the real reason is gravel.

The BMC, on the other hand, under the administrator and the state government directly for a year now, in the absence of elected corporators, is on its own joyride.

In August 2022, the BMC had issued tenders worth Rs 5,000 crore, for which no bidder came forth. In January 2023, the BMC issued tenders worth Rs 6,080 crore for 400 km of roads, without any clarity on which roads would be taken up, in what month and timelines.

In a democracy, that we claim to be, how can an administrator opaquely issue tenders worth Rs 6,000 crore of Mumbaikars’ money and award contracts in a way that has been questioned far and wide.

For the bid, the estimates were revised and increased by 20% than the earlier ones, excluding GST, and bids won by all bidders at an average of 8% above of the increased estimated price.

What makes it murkier is that five contractors (making groups of three for each bid) bid for five packets. Each won one.

Beyond this murky bid process, for the first time in Mumbai, without having traffic NOCs in hand, and for works that may not start until mid-2024, an advance mobilisation fund of Rs 650 crore was to be paid to the contractors by the BMC. Till date, there is no clarity on whether this has been paid.

The question is whether it is fair in a democracy for administrators to use taxpayers’ money at their own discretion, in a process that seems cartelised, for bids that seem to be highly overpriced and utopian in timelines. But this is utopia for the contractors and the ones standing firmly behind them for sure.

What pains me is the city that we love, cherish, and protect so dearly, has been a target for the government to be made to depend on the Centre and state governments for funds, which was not the case for 25 years under the Shiv Sena government.

However, this is not about politics. This is about the principles of democracy, accountability, transparency, and most importantly, the citizens, who will face troubles due to broken promises of timelines, while those who have taken the contract of destroying Maharashtra’s good governance enjoy.

Aditya Thackeray is Shiv Sena (UBT) leader and Maharashtra MLA. He served as the state’s environment minister from December 2019 to June 2022. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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