Stand-off in Kochi Corporation over waste removal ends

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Civic body decides to continue with the service of current contractor for now

The week-long stand-off over the removal of waste from the corporation area has ended with the corporation authorities deciding to retain for a short period the services of V. M. Zakeer Babu, who is now engaged by the corporation for waste removal. His services are being retained as per the current rates applicable for the services. The services will be utilised until the new contract period begins within a week.

The corporation has also decided to cancel Mr. Babu’s current contract and to get back the ₹1.26 crore that has been paid in excess to Mr. Babu and another contractor N. R. Shaji.

The Mayor of the Corporation had engaged the opposition leader in the council K. J. Antony and members of the health standing committee to resolve the problem. V. K. Minimol, health standing committee chairman, said that waste removal would be back to normal immediately.

Earlier in the day, the councillors were unanimous in condemning how the city was beginning face a crisis in waste movement but were divided on finding a solution. The council meeting had ended earlier on Saturday without a decision on the issue.

The council discussed the objections against payments made to two contractors engaged for the movement of waste to the corporation’s solid waste treatment plant at Brahmapuram between 2014-15 and 2015-16.

The waste movement was hit after the Mr. Babu suspended the service in the aftermath of the corporation withholding payments in view of audit objections and the civic body, in turn, terminated the contract on March 24. Since then, only 24 vehicles, including 17 vehicles of the corporation, were being engaged in waste movement in place of the previous 45.

Mayor Soumini Jain said the corporation had two options before it to address the stalemate – restore the terminated contract for the interim period till the new contract kicked in by paying the contractor a token amount if he was prepared to resume the service at the originally agreed rate of ₹1,300 a day or to rent lorries at the market rate, which was more than double that amount.

The opposition, however, was dead set against paying the contractor a single penny following which it was decided that the matter would be left to the collective decision of the Mayor, opposition leader and health standing committee chairperson.

The State auditing wing of the corporation had objected to the payment of ₹70 lakh during 2014-15 and ₹56 lakh during 2015-16 on the ground that it violated the tender condition of undertaking at least two trips a day in the health circles of 1 to 10. As per the audit finding, the corporation had paid contractor N.R. Shaji an excess of ₹95 lakh and his successor Mr. Babu ₹70 lakh.

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