Black Gammon?

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The construction major, indicted for flawed safety measures, could easily be blacklisted, says  Shantanu Guha Ray

Future tense A file picture of Delhi Metro head E Sreedharan at an underground site of the project
Future tense A file picture of Delhi Metro head E Sreedharan at an underground site of the project
Photos: Shailendra Pandey

A DAY AFTER an accident at a construction site of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) killed six people on July 12, DMRC chief E Sreedharan cleared files to ban Gammon India, the country’s largest civil engineering company. But he was restrained — on the grounds that a replacement would be difficult in a short time. And the process to complete the metro extension in time for 2010’s much-hyped Commonwealth Games would be delayed.

Sreedharan, therefore, had no choice but to allow Gammon India to continue. But the chances of the company being blacklisted remain high: the collapse of a section of the Badarpur line was followed by a bungled attempt to shift the collapsed section with multiple cranes — in front of television cameras. “Gammon India is very important for us. They are involved in five major projects in Phase II. If you take them away, the projects will get delayed by six to eight months. Unfortunately, we don’t have many big construction companies,” Sreedharan told reporters in New Delhi, adding: “But we will send them a show cause notice asking why they should not be blacklisted for two years.”

troubled workers at the site of the accident in Delhi
troubled workers at the site of the accident in Delhi

Sreedharan had support from Minister for Urban Development S Jaipal Reddy. A probe panel, headed by IIT-Delhi professor AK Nagpal, has already found serious defects in the design of the pillar that collapsed: the cantilever arm and the concrete used in the construction did not have adequate strength, raising concerns about construction standards. Tandon Consultants, a New Delhi-based structural engineering specialist firm, has been banned for two years while Arch Consultants, a part of global engineering group Sinclair Knight Merz has also been blacklisted for five years. “DMRC has been sold a lemon over the design. There are serious faults in the strength of the concrete,” a top DMRC source told TEHELKA.

Gammon India has said it has not been blacklisted and that it’s confident of picking up other state-owned projects, especially at a time when government spending on infrastructure projects is at a high. “The company has operated in this country for 90 years and is known for the quality of its work,” the company said in a statement.

Sreedharan inspects the site of the accident that killed six people on July 2
Sreedharan inspects the site of the accident that killed six people on July 2

Despite the confidence, Gammon India is not exactly out of the woods here: it can be blacklisted for over two years if charges against the company are proved. Recently, Gammon was held responsible for the collapse of eight prefabricated segments of a flyover in Hyderabad, which claimed two lives. A technical committee appointed by the Andhra Pradesh government in its report found negligence on Gammon India’s part, which was the contractor for the Rs 28.9 crore, 17km, flyover as the cause of the accident. The technical committee pointed to several lapses in the construction, resulting in the collapse of the scaffolding and said the contractor and officials failed to fill excavated trenches for laying pipelines with stone slurry as per standard procedure and that led to the accident. “The commodities market is on a roller coaster ride and construction companies are cutting corners,” says the source.

But the DMRC accident has come as a wake-up call. The Amritsar Municipal Corporation warned Gammon against compromising the quality of material in the construction of a 3.25km elevated road project, worth Rs 173 crore, in the city. “We have asked a company to check the construction work,” Amritsar Municipal Corporation Commissioner DPS Kharbanda told TEHELKA.

GAMMON INDIA, which did India’s first pre-cast reinforced concrete job for the foundation of Mumbai’s landmark Gateway of India in 1919, has also been associated with what was then the longest river bridge in the world — across the Ganga in Patna. It’s worked on the longest railway tunnel in Asia, the Konkan railway project in Ratnagiri in Maharashtra.

Gammon was also held responsible for the collapse of pre-fab segments of a 17km flyover in Hyderabad

The company, founded by a civil engineer educated in London, John C Gammon, also drew flak from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) which found its promoters had misused company funds for a rights issue. The SEBI probe also revealed other matters such as non-disclosure of a financial pact with another firm, resulting in understatement of losses, overstatement of assets and the unauthorised use of bank accounts.

For the moment, Gammon seems to have survived the fallout of the July 12 accident. But with its reputation for safety in serious danger, another incident could prove catastrophic for the construction major.

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