WITH THE Amarnath Yatra a month away, the construction of dormitories for pilgrims en route at Ramban has come to a halt following alleged detention of two senior engineers of the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) by the Jammu and Kashmir Police, on the reportedly orders of the Principal Secretary to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.
The CPWD engineers’ associations have alleged that Executive Engineer (Civil) RK Mattu and Assistant Engineer (Civil) Rizwan Alam were detained for over 10 hours on May 25 on the orders of Principal Secretary Nitishwar Kumar, who is considered the right-hand man of Sinha and holds charge as the Chief Executive Officer of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), as well as Principal Secretary, Power Development Department.
While Ramban District SP Mohita Sharma refused to say anything on the matter, Kumar did not respond to repeated calls and messages. The two CPWD engineers’ 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 Lt Governor Sinha seeking action against both Kumar and SP Sharma.
CPWD Superintending Engineer Mohan Lal told The Sunday Express that since the May 25 incident, “No one, including engineers, contractors and laborers, are prepared to visit the construction site. In my status report, I have conveyed to the authorities the detention of our engineers by police and also the suspension of work at the site.”
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An Uttar Pradesh-cadre IAS officer, Nitishwar Kumar is on deputation to Jammu and Kashmir. He had arrived in Ramban on May 25 morning for a scheduled inspection of the progress of dormitories being constructed by the CPWD for Amarnath pilgrims. According to several sources, Kumar took objection to the work being incomplete and CPWD Executive Engineer (Civil) RK Mattu not being available at the site.
Before he left for Banihal for inspection there, he reportedly verbally instructed the Ramban SP, who was accompanying him, to arrest or detain Mattu, along with Assistant Engineer (Civil) Rizwan Alam. While Alam, who was present, was detained from the site, Mattu was held while on his way over.
YK Tomer, the vice-president of the Central PWD Engineers’ Association, told The Sunday Express that the two engineers were first kept at the Ramban Police Station for nearly eight hours, beginning 12 noon, and then shifted to a government guest house. They were released around 10.30 pm.
The same day, Superintending Engineer, Jammu circle, Mohan Lal sent a letter to UT Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta, with copies to the Director General of Police, Principal Secretary to LG (Niteshwar Kumar), the Officer on Special Duty to the LG, and CPWD Director General, among others, detailing what happened.
Mohan Lal wrote that they were not conveyed the time of the scheduled visit of Kumar till two-and-a-half hours before his arrival. He said on receiving the information, he left immediately for Ramban, but could not reach on time “due to travel time of 130 km in the hill area and landslides, as his office is stationed at Jammu”.
However, he said: “The CPWD’s Assistant Engineer along with Junior Engineer and representatives of contractors were present during the inspection… It is learned that the CEO, SASB, during his inspection gave verbal directions to SP Ramban, who was also present during the site visit, to arrest / detain AEs / EEs (assistant engineers, executive engineers) just on the basis of some pending petty work / items.”
Accordingly, Lal wrote, while Alam was taken into custody from the site itself, Mattu was arrested on his way there.
Lal said that they wrote a letter to the SP Ramban and also called her up to get the men released, but she ignored them. In his letter to the UT Chief Secretary, Lal said that when they asked the police officer about the reasons for the detention, she threatened them with consequences.
“Thereafter, I tried to contact the CEO, SASB, telephonically but the call was not picked up. So a WhatsApp message was sent with the request to release our government officers on duty from police custody. However, no action in this regard (was) taken, neither by the SP Ramban, nor by CEO, SASB, to get our officers released even after… about 8 hours, which is a serious matter and highly unconstitutional (illegal detention of government officers while performing their duties),” he wrote, adding that there were prescribed rules and procedures to deal with any lapses on the part of government officials.
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The Superintending Engineer also denied any delay on their part in the work. He said the CPWD was entrusted with construction of pre-engineered dormitories, made of steel, by the SASB in April 2021 and had begun work the next month. “As per the MOU signed between the CPWD and the SASB, Rs 10.67 crore was to be paid to it as an advance by the latter, but it deposited only Rs 8 crore (in) June 2021, the first time, after a lot of persuasion… Thereafter, all the installments / reimbursement of payment made to the contractors were delayed by 2-3 months every time even after (submission of) details by the Engineer-in-Charge… from time to time,” Lal wrote in his letter.
He added that of the total revised cost of Rs 47 crore, only Rs 32 crore had been released to the CPWD till date. “Hence, there has not been any delay on the part of the CPWD for completion of the work,” Lal said, adding that the rest of the work will be completed before the start of the Amarnath Yatra “subject to the release of the balance amount to all the seven contractors working at the site”.
Seeking action against Nitishwar Kumar and the Ramban SP, Tomar in a letter to the Lt Governor also raised the delayed receipt of funds and accused the authorities of “forcing the field staff to complete the work without following the MoU, harassment and misbehavior”. “You can imagine the high-handedness of officers of the local administration as they do not bother to pick up phones and reply to messages of senior officers of the CPWD for release of the illegally detained EE and AE,” he wrote.