Vadodara Boat Capsize: Gujarat High Court Orders Disciplinary Action Against Two Former Municipal Commissioners

Bhavya Singh

10 July 2024 4:39 AM GMT

  • Vadodara Boat Capsize: Gujarat High Court Orders Disciplinary Action Against Two Former Municipal Commissioners

    The Gujarat High Court has ordered disciplinary action against two former municipal commissioners of Vadodara in connection with a tragic boat capsizing incident that claimed 14 lives. The court found the officials guilty of dereliction of duty and misuse of office.The division bench comprising Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Pranav Trivedi, stated, "Taking note of the above, we...

    The Gujarat High Court has ordered disciplinary action against two former municipal commissioners of Vadodara in connection with a tragic boat capsizing incident that claimed 14 lives. The court found the officials guilty of dereliction of duty and misuse of office.

    The division bench comprising Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Pranav Trivedi, stated, "Taking note of the above, we provide that the necessary disciplinary action shall be initiated against the erring officials considering the findings in the inquiry report of the Fact Finding Committee and the statement made on behalf of the State Government by the learned Advocate General, noted hereinabove. The disciplinary action, so initiated, shall be brought to its logical conclusion by adopting due procedure of law, and the result of the same shall be brought before the Court in the instant petition."

    On January 18, 2024, a boat capsized in Harni Lake in Vadodara, resulting in the deaths of 12 children and two teachers who were on a school picnic. The court's order, based on a suo motu PIL and a government fact-finding committee report, revealed that Kotia Projects, the company operating the lake, was not a qualified bidder.

    The court reproached former commissioners H S Patel and Vinod Rao for permitting an unqualified bidder to participate in the process, calling for immediate disciplinary action against them. It also questioned the roles of the standing committee and general body in the allegedly flawed bidding process.

    Referencing the report from the government-appointed fact-finding committee investigating the lapses by government officials, the judges made negative remarks about H S Patel and Vinod Rao, who served as municipal commissioners during the relevant period.

    “In our tentative opinion, both the Municipal Commissioners posted at the relevant point of time, are guilty of dereliction of duty and misuse of their position. In any eventuality, M/s. Kotia Projects cannot be said to be a qualified bidder in the process and, as such, there was no question of its selection,” the Court stated.

    According to the fact-finding committee, H.S. Patel, who served as the municipal commissioner of Vadodara from February 25, 2015, to February 23, 2016, should have scrutinized the bid from M/s. Kotia Projects more critically. This company had been disqualified in the first round of the Expression of Interest (EOI) but was later qualified in the second round, both of which occurred while Patel was in office.

    Regarding Vinod R. Rao, who was the municipal commissioner between June 25, 2016, and July 17, 2018, the High Court noted that two bidders were asked to submit their final scope of work and price bids. One of these bidders, Mangalam Construction Company, withdrew from the process. The fact-finding committee pointed out that when one bidder withdrew and the other was disqualified in the first round, the entire tendering process should have been reviewed, scrapped, and re-invited.

    The court stated that the tendering process should have been reviewed or scrapped, highlighting significant illegality in the process. Rao's proposal on September 23, 2016, to qualify M/s. Kotia Projects as the successful bidder was deemed severely illegal. The approval of this proposal by the Standing Committee on September 8, 2016, and by the General Body on September 12, 2016, was highly questionable.

    The court emphasized that the Principal Secretary of the Urban Development and Urban Housing Department, Government of Gujarat, needs to seriously consider the functioning of the Standing Committee and the General Body of the Corporation to prevent such issues from recurring.

    The court strongly disagreed with the fact-finding committee's view that the bidding process was typical for urban local bodies, asserting that this did not absolve any wrongdoing in the process of awarding the contract to Kotia Projects. The court criticized the committee for potentially covering up illegalities in the matter.

    The court declined to comment further on the fact-finding committee's report, noting

    “the Fact Finding Committee has prepared its report, inasmuch as, a statement has been made by the learned Advocate General based on the note submitted by him on behalf of the State Government that in view of the observations made in the Fact Finding Report, the competent authority of the State Government will initiate disciplinary action against the two officers posted as Municipal Commissioners, Vadodara Municipal Corporation, referred in inquiry report, through its General Administration Department (GAD) as per the All India Services (Discipline And Appeal) Rules, 1969 as well as under the All India Services (Death-cum-Retirement Benefits) Rules, 1958.”

    As regards the larger issue of management of water bodies such as reservoirs, ponds, rivers, lakes in the State of Gujarat, the PIL has been posted on 12.07.2024.

    The Fact Finding Report has been sealed again and is kept on record in the sealed cover.

    Case Title: RE-MANAGEMENT OF THE WATER BODIES SUCH AS RESERVOIRS/PONDS/RIVERS/LAKES IN THE STATE OF GUJARAT, & ANR. Versus STATE OF GUJARAT THROUGH THE SECRETARY HOME DEPARTMENT & ORS.

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