Wednesday, October 9, 2013

BMC chief's 'ethical sermon' confounds builders

MUMBAI: A TOI expose on rampant corruption in the building approvals system last month, has led municipal commissioner S J Kunte to deliver an unusual ethical sermon to developers. His letter addressed to the MCHI-Credai, the apex body representing builders, is full of homilies. Two weeks after the letter was sent, confounded developers are still to reply.

The BMC, Kunte said, was trying to infuse ethical standards among officials by exposing them to training programmes. He also advised builders to approach the anti-corruption bureau and pointed out that there were special courts to deal with corruption. The commissioner sermonized it was important to resist attempts to commit such crimes.

Sources in the industry said that there was virtual anarchy at the zonal level with no monitoring or accountability in various departments that approve projects. Among the worst is is the fire brigade department, whose no-objection certificate is mandatory. City builders said that unless there was a crackdown from the top, things at the lower level would not change.

But Kunte, in his letter, said, Kunte wants builders to "resist attempts to commit such crimes with all the force at command of the victim".

"In the larger interest of this city, I seek your cooperation in combating demand for bribes...I have seen that even a seemingly helpless poor person musters courage to fight demand for bribes. Fortunately, members of your organization are much better placed in society to be able to put up effective resistance when confronted with such criminal acts of demanding bribes."

Kunte added that to enhance general hygiene in civic governance, the BMC has infused ethical standards among the staff by exposing them to training programmes on ethics at the Institute of Friends of Moral Re-armament of India, Panchgani. "In all internal meetings of the building proposals department, officials have been directed to uphold highest standards of integrity and professionalism. They have also been directed to remain vigilant against influential outsiders who may vitiate their functioning," he said.

MCHI-Credai president Vimal Shah said the organization will soon reply to the civic chief. "He has raised some relevant issues. The problem is at the bottom where there is no standard operating procedure to process building files. The current system is arbitrary, allowing the lower staff to find innumerable loopholes to stall proposals," he said.

On September 9, TOI had reported how unscrupulous civic officials in the building proposals department deliberately delay construction permissions despite a 2012 circular making it mandatory for clearances to be granted within 60 days. The circular was issued to speed up building approvals, curb corruption and fix responsibility for delays, but many builders complained it has now been conveniently buried. Demands from a section of officials have, in fact, increased since last year.

Kunte countered in his letter that in specific complaints, inquiries were made and suitable relief given along with administrative action against the delinquents. "Notwithstanding these efforts, However, greed can trump better senses resulting in demand for bribes. Demanding bribes is a cognizable offence, whether it is done by a public servant or by a private person in his behalf or otherwise," he said.

He claimed that rules have been made transparent and discretions curtailed. "Office automation is being pursued and a paperless office system is being put in place. This will help track file movements and locate deviations from the prescribed norms for the approval process. To deal with grievances, I have directed the deputy chief engineers of zonal offices to hold periodic meetings with developers and architects to resolve technical issues in building approvals."