When sewage is clogged, the BMC takes up the task and clears the sewage, the sediments which were clogging the drainage is called silt or sludge. This silt is a breeding ground for various microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, etc. If left untreated, they may dry and fly off with air. Some are so microscopic in size that they can even bypass the face mask and infect people, especially children, and the elders. Besides that, the bigger danger that lurks are the mosquitos that feed on them, increasing their population and often getting infected by viruses causing dengue and malaria. Treating such sediments methodologically and scientifically is very necessary to control the invisible health hazards for the citizens of our city. BMC has a sewage treatment plant, and that requires certain expertise to operate. Only companies that are highly qualified to treat the silt are given the plant to be operated. To prove their expertise, a 3rd party certification is required which endorses the company after evaluating them and tells if the company bears expertise in conducting such crucial tasks. In this case, it is the National Accreditation Board for Testing & Calibration Laboratories (NABL) which endorses a company or a laboratory, after carefully evaluating their technical competency in a subject matter issued a tender, calling for companies which must have experience of treating the sewage waste methodically, and there is the only way to find if they actually do possess, and that is through a certification awarded by an evaluating third party.
Various companies participated to win the tender in January 2019. One of the choosing criteria to win a tender is the lower-cost of operations for a span of 5 years. The tender was won by Girish Khandagade, a businessman who claimed that he has the relevant certification and experience to carry out the job. The tender had very tight criteria and somehow Girish fulfilled all of them. However, the issue came to the light when an RTI activist enquired about the certifications and they discovered that everything which the company had submitted was technically incorrect and not genuine. The real issue begins here. After claiming that they will treat the silt and that they possess the experience of doing so, the plant remained shut.
He proceeded by showing his running expenses to the BMC and continued getting the money paid. However, the catch here is simple, to run a plant you need electricity. The electricity bill went from above one lakh to a couple of thousands in the following months, then it went down to fewer thousands and then in negative, asking the board to pay the money to the plant. The plant stopped working and BMC continued paying.
In a nutshell, Girish Khandagade, a businessman, submitted the tender of treating the sludge (or silt, the sediment after sewage clean up), he won the tender and claimed to be running the plant, if the plant was running the electricity bill would go higher, in fact, the bill went lower and at one point, it went negative. So, Girish not only played BMC but also played with the electricity board.
The questions in our mind should be, at the times of pandemic, where is the sludge getting treated? Is it mixed with other things and sold as something that we don’t know? How harmful is it to the health of the people where the silt is left untreated and if any death arises, who should be held responsible?
The notorious criteria of awarding the tender to the cheapest bidder have not only enabled corporate thugs to enter the market but also affected the quality we would expect from the work done by the hardworking tax money we pay to the government. People like Girish take advantage of such protocols and hoard your money that was paid to the government, the systematic intervention is minimal.
When it comes to taking care of the city, BMC has been the front runner, from their Clean-up drive to active participation during the COVID times, from pre-planned unclogging of drainage to prevent trains from stopping during the rains to working on silt treatment, they have been doing a good job. However, the lack of vigilance on their part is the result of people like Girish gaming the system. The department must take responsibility about who is taking care of what happens after the tender is won? Who is checking if the silt was actually treated and not discarded as a biohazard into the open? We expect that people like Girish should not just be banned from bidding on the projects but must also face consequences of their actions, it must be investigated. Sometimes the sheer greed results in a lack of empathy towards humanity.
When Engineers work up a solution, they affect almost everybody around them. BMC must act on a higher authority and make sure that companies who do this must face the consequences. It is time, people start demanding answers, crores of tax money is being duped by one man, his actions were not just of greed but also showcased that he has no remorse for human life. Treating untreated silt is a high responsibility job, it not only pollutes land, but also air, puts a steady decline in people’s health, most affected by bacteria, germs, and other pathogens are the children and the elders of the family. Untreated silt can even destroy the crops and infect the waters running around them. What is he doing with the silt if not treating it? The entire city is under an electricity power crunch and people like Girish are fabricating the electric meter and getting money from the board, as a result, it is disturbing the budget of the electric board, and who pays for the prices when they go high? The citizens of the city.
If the companies Girish are not dealt with now, they will continue duping the system, increase electricity charges for the masses, win tenders from BMC, hoard taxpayers’ money, leave disease-spreading silt untreated, and in worst cases be responsible for the death of elderly and children, while still enjoying the luxury of being scot-free.