With the Amarnath Yatra a month away, the construction of dormitories for en route pilgrims in Ramban has come to a halt following the alleged detention of two senior engineers from the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) by the Jammu and Kashmir, reportedly on the orders of Principal Secretary Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.
CPWD Engineering Associations alleged that Executive Engineer (Civil) RK Mattu and Assistant Engineer (Civil) Rizwan Alam were detained for more than 10 hours on May 25 on the orders of Principal Secretary Nitishwar Kumar, who is considered as Sinha’s right-hand man and holds the position of Managing Director of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), as well as Principal Secretary of the Energy Development Department.
While Ramban District SP Mohita Sharma declined to say anything about it, Kumar did not respond to repeated calls and messages. CPWD’s two engineering associations – Central Engineering Service Group A (Direct Recruits) Association and Central PWD Engineers Association – have also written separately to Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Puri and Lieutenant Governor Sinha to seek action against Kumar and SP Sharma.
CPWD Superintendent Engineer Mohan Lal told The Sunday Express that since the incident on May 25, “nobody, including engineers, contractors and laborers, is prepared to visit the construction site. In my progress report, I informed the authorities of the detention of our engineers by the police as well as the suspension of work on the site.
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Officer of the IAS of Uttar Pradesh, Nitishwar Kumar is in deputation in Jammu and Kashmir. He had arrived at Ramban on the morning of May 25 for a scheduled inspection of the progress of the dormitories being constructed by the CPWD for Amarnath pilgrims. According to several sources, Kumar objected that the work was incomplete and CPWD Executive Engineer (Civil) RK Mattu was not available at the site.
Before leaving for Banihal for an inspection there, he allegedly verbally ordered the Ramban SP, who was accompanying him, to arrest or detain Mattu, as well as the assistant (civilian) engineer Rizwan Alam. While Alam, who was present, was detained off site, Mattu was detained on his way.
YK Tomer, vice president of the Central PWD Engineers’ Association, told the Sunday Express that the two engineers were first detained at Ramban police station for almost eight hours, starting at noon, then moved to a government guest house. They were released around 10:30 p.m.
On the same day, Jammu Circle Superintendent Engineer Mohan Lal sent a letter to UT Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta with copy to Director General of Police, LG Chief Secretary (Niteshwar Kumar) , the Special Duty Officer with the LG, and the CPWD General Manager, among others, detailing what happened.
Mohan Lal wrote that they were not informed of the time of Kumar’s planned visit until two and a half hours before his arrival. He said that after receiving the information, he left immediately for Ramban, but could not arrive in time “due to the 130 km travel time in the hills and landslides area, because his office is stationed in Jammu”.
However, he said: “The CPWD Assistant Engineer together with the Junior Engineer and contractors representatives were present during the inspection… It is learned that the CEO, SASB during his inspection gave instructions verbal to SP Ramban, who was also present during the site visit, to stop/detain AEs/EEs (Assistant Engineers, Executive Engineers) solely on the basis of certain minor works/pending items.
As a result, Lal wrote, while Alam was taken into custody from the site itself, Mattu was arrested on his way there.
Lal said they wrote a letter to SP Ramban and also called her to get the men released, but she ignored them. In her letter to the UT Chief Secretary, Lal said that when they asked the policeman about the reasons for the detention, she threatened them with consequences.
“Subsequently, I tried to contact the CEO, SASB, by phone, but the call was not answered. So, a WhatsApp message was sent with the request to release our government agents on duty from the However, no action in this regard (was) taken, neither by SP Ramban nor by the CEO, SASB, to get our officers released even after… around 8 hours which is a serious matter and highly unconstitutional (unlawful detention of government officials in the line of duty),” he wrote, adding that there were prescribed rules and procedures to deal with any failure on the part of the government officials.
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The superintendent engineer also denied any delay on their part in the work. He said CPWD was awarded the construction of prefabricated, steel, dormitories by SASB in April 2021 and began work the following month. “According to the Memorandum of Understanding signed between CPWD and SASB, Rs 10.67 crore was to be paid to him as an advance by the latter, but he only deposited Rs 8 crore (in June 2021, the first time, after much persuasion… Subsequently, all payment installments/reimbursements made to contractors were delayed for 2-3 months each time, even after (submission of) details by the engineer in charge… of time in time,” Lal wrote in his letter.
He added that out of the revised total cost of Rs 47 crore, only Rs 32 crore had been communicated to the CPWD till date. “Therefore, there has been no delay from CPWD for the completion of the works,” Lal said, adding that the rest of the works will be completed before the start of the Amarnath Yatra “subject to the release. of the balance amount to all seven contractors working on the site”.
Seeking to take action against Nitishwar Kumar and the Ramban SP, Tomar in a letter to the Lieutenant Governor also referred to the delay in receiving the funds and accused the authorities of “forcing the field staff to complete the works without following the memorandum of understanding, harassment and misconduct”. “You can imagine the authoritarianism of the local administration officers as they do not bother to pick up the phones and respond to messages from senior CPWD officers for the release of illegally detained EEs and AEs,” he said. he writes.