Taking note of lapses on the part of Indian Railways, Comptroller and Auditor General of India has found deficiencies in provision of elephant passages and monitoring mechanism for checking of price variation bills.
In a report submitted in Parliament, the CAG has ticked off the Railways for not taking concrete measures to prevent elephant deaths due to train-hits.
The federal auditor has pointed out that during 2016-17 to 2018-19, train collisions resulted in the death of 61 elephants.
The audit also observed that due diligence was not exercised by the Executive and Accounts Department and pointed out cases of fraudulent payment of price variation to contractors due to failure in internal checks.
The audit findings are related to deficiencies/irregularities noticed during the course of audit over Indian Railways during the year 2018-19.
According to the report, a committee of senior officials of the Ministry of Railways and Ministry of Environment and Forests (Government of India, Government of West Bengal and Government of Odisha) was constituted in January 2013 to evolve an action plan for eliminating instances of elephant mortalities due to train hits.
The committee recommended short-term and long-term measures to prevent train-elephant collisions. Although steps were taken by both the Railways and the Forest Department, elephants continued to die on track.
Audit observed that precautionary measures like speed restrictions were not being enforced in the notified elephant passages. Audit analysis of identified passages and elephant deaths on track revealed that more number of elephant casualties was reported in those locations which were identified as elephant passages.
Thirty-seven deaths occurred in the identified passages and 24 deaths occurred in the un-identified passages. Audit observed that the Forest Department and Railways had not given priority to construction of underpass/overpass across railway tracks which facilitate elephant movement.
There was no uniformity in dimension, height, colour and content of the elephant signage boards in Indian Railways. They were also placed in an incorrect position, defeating their purpose of forewarning the drivers.
Honey bee sound devices were not installed in some of the Zonal Railways. Taking note of the wasteful expenditure, the CAG has pointed out that Price Variation Clause (PVC) was incorporated in General Conditions of Contract (GCC) to safeguard against change in prices of labour, material, fuel and other components.
The Ministry of Railways issued various instructions from time to time in this regard. As per General Financial Rules, 2005 and 2017 (GFR), price variation was payable only in long-term contracts where delivery period extends beyond 18 months.
However, PVC as per rules/provisions of GFR was not included in GCC for works contracts by the Ministry of Railways.
Audit reviewed 1,050 works contracts (pertaining to 2016-17 and 2018-19 periods) and observed that PVC was included in contravention to the GFR provisions in GCC for contracts which were less than 18 months, leading to avoidable payment of Rs 913.03 crore in 811 contracts.
It was also observed that incorrect adoption of ‘base month’ for payment of PVC led to excess payment of Rs 20.26 crore in 93 contracts and short payment of Rs 4.31 crore in 35 contracts.
In most of the works contracts, time extensions were granted due to administrative failure on the part of Railways. As a result, the Railway Administration had to make an avoidable payment of Rs 187.51 crore to the contractors towards price variation in 514 contracts.
Monitoring mechanism for checking price variation bills was deficient, it said.
Audit observed cases of fraudulent payment of price variation to contractors in Northeast Frontier Railway due to failure in internal checks.
South East Central Railway awarded the work of construction of a bridge (Bridge No 182) between IB and Brajrajnagar stations based on its own geotechnical investigations.
During execution, the contractor found that actual soil conditions were not the same as was reported in the Railway’s report. Adverse soil condition prevented the contractor from completing the work.
A new contractor was awarded the work with a change of design and location of the bridge. This led to wasteful expenditure of Rs 6.73 crore incurred on the earlier incomplete bridge, which was later abandoned by the Railways.
Northern Railway constructed six (6) Limited Height Subways (LHSs), in lieu of Unmanned Level Crossings, on the Rohtak-Panipat section of Delhi Division after incurring an expenditure of Rs 16.19 crore.
The whole expenditure incurred on construction of these LHSs became unproductive as these LHSs were completely submerged in water and remained unutilized.
Thus, the main objectives for construction of LHSs in lieu of level crossings, i.e. to prevent loss of human lives and road accidents apart from better traffic movement, could not be achieved.
East Coast Railway delayed installation of “Integrated Security System” at four selected stations (Bhubaneswar, Puri, Cuttack stations of Khurda Road Division and Vishakhapatnam of Waltair Division) which posed a security risk.
For better security to passengers and to guard the Railway Installations, the Ministry of Railways issued instructions to all Zonal Railways to implement Integrated Security System (ISS).
All the components of ISS were not installed and System Integration with control room as envisaged in the contract was not achieved in East Coast Railway.
The Railway Administration neither took any action against the defaulting firm nor reported the progress/difficulties in installation of ISS equipment to the Ministry of Railways.
Despite reminders from the State Authority, East Central Railway delayed payment of Rs 3.20 crore for acquisition of land from State Authorities for construction of a new line between Hajipur and Sagauli.
This resulted in avoidable additional expenditure of Rs 134.21 crore due to revision in Land Acquisition Act and rates of compensation.
Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist covering railways. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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