ITANAGAR: Access to safe drinking water can be a costly affair. In Arunachal Pradesh’s Chayang-Tajo in the East Kameng district, that access can cost crores and the wait can be eight years long.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report on public sector undertakings in the social, economic, general, revenue and economic sectors for 2016-17, tabled in the legislative assembly earlier this year, showed that the cost of setting up a drinking water facility ran into crores of rupees, which it alleges were not utilised judiciously.

In 2011 the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region approved ?14.85 crore for the project ‘Water Supply at Chayang-Tajo Township’ on a 90:10 cost sharing basis between the central and state governments. The objective was to provide potable drinking water in the Chayang-Tajo township, with a deadline of completion set for March 2014.

The project was not completed by the deadline, and as of March 2016 a total of ?11.40 crore had been released and spent.

In September 2016 when the CAG scrutinised the records of the Executive Engineer of the Public Health Engineering & Water Supply department, Seppa Division, it revealed that the work had commenced in November 2011 without the competent authority’s technical sanction. It also said that 188 work orders valued at ?7.86 crore had been issued to 39 local contractors/ suppliers without inviting tenders.

The CAG also said that the executive engineer’s office had “failed to recover ?82.91 lakh from the final bills of six contractors” for cement and steel.

By March 2016 “the physical progress of the work was 80 percent and financial progress was ?1,140.43 lakh”.

In response to the CAG’s contentions, in September 2017 the department stated that a recovery of the cost of materials of ?82.91 lakh would be made from M/s Hills Engineering as ?195.14 lakh were yet to be released to the firm.

However, the CAG noted that the reply was “grossly incorrect as the recovery of ?82.91 lakh was to be recovered from six other contractors and not from M/s Hills Engineering”.

“The fact also remains that the project was taken up without the technical sanction of the competent authority; work/supply orders to the value of 53 percent of the total project cost were issued to local contractors/suppliers without call of tenders; the expenditure of ?1,140.43 lakh incurred so far was unfruitful; and, the project which should have been completed in March 2014 was still incomplete (as of September 2016) thereby depriving the populace of Chayang-Tajo township of the benefits envisaged from the project,” the CAG said.

It finally noted that the state government should identify similar incomplete projects or ongoing works where “in spite of huge expenditure, the public has not benefitted from the projects for long periods and review such delayed projects and take steps for their early completion so as to make them operational”.

Speaking to The Citizen, the present executive engineer Bharat Sonam said that since the CAG report was compiled the project is almost 80 percent complete.

Sonam, who took charge in August 2016, also said that ?2.88 crore had yet to be released by the government.

“The people are being fed treated water supply from this project. There are seven zonal tanks, out of which three tanks have been charged with treated water,” he said.

“Although it was defunct before I joined, I took it as a challenge and started working on it with support of my chief engineer Toko Jyoti,” Sonam said.

He also said that the issue of non-release of the remaining funds had been brought to the department’s notice on several occasions.