After accusing the BJP government in Karnataka of corruption for months, the state’s government contactors staged a massive protest against “commission demands” at Freedom Park in Bengaluru on Wednesday, 18 January.
Hundreds of contractors, who have been accusing the government of demanding “40 percent commission” on all works and pending bills, also issued an ultimatum.
The contractor’s association has given the BJP government till 31 March to clear all pending dues for three years — running into ₹25,000 crore, according to them — and threatened to stop all on-going works if the money wasn’t paid.
“Narendra Modi is not corrupt, but he has given a free hand to his MLAs and ministers who are indulging in excessive corruption,” alleged said D Kempanna, president of Karnataka State Contractors’ Association.
Kempanna was recently arrested by the Bengaluru police in a defamation case filed by Minister for Horticulture Munirathna, after the former accused the minister of demanding bribes.
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Protest by contractors
Kempanna was addressing hundreds of contractors who had arrived at Freedom Park from various districts of Karnataka to protest against the ruling BJP government for its alleged “arm-twisting of the association by filing defamation suits against their leaders”.
The defamation suits and Kempanna’s arrest came in the wake of a few contractors releasing audio tapes of phone conversations purportedly involving a few MLAs and ministers who were openly demanding 40 percent as commission of the total project cost.
“Corruption at governmental departments existed earlier too; however, it was tolerable. Earlier, we had to part with 10 percent commission of the awarded project cost. But over the past one-and-half years, this 10 percent has seen an abnormal growth that has now come up to 40 percent,” said R Manjunath, working president of the Karnataka Contractors’ Association.
Related: Contractor seeks mercy killing over 40% commission
Allegations against 13 BJP MLAs, 4 ministers
Manjunath had recently released an audio phone conversation in which he is purportedly heard talking unhappily with Chitradurga MLA GH Thippareddy on a 40 percent commission demand.
“We have not seen this kind of brazen corruption in any government earlier, and when we complain about corruption, they (lawmakers) ask us to furnish documentary evidence for our allegations. We have recorded phone conversations, documents and letters as evidence from hundreds of contractors who have named around 13 MLAs and three to four ministers,” Manjunath said, adding that MLAs were getting public works executed by their henchmen who aren’t qualified to carry out civil work.
Kempanna told the gathering of agitators that the state machinery had failed miserably.
“Bills to the tune of ₹25,000 crore are pending over the past three years. Contractors have taken loans, pledged their assets to pay for the projects. Now the government is intimidating us with quality checks on the projects,” Kempanna said.
“What quality can they expect when they have taken 40 percent commission,” he added, demanding an independent commission to probe allegations of corruption against the government.
The protest began with a minute’s mourning for contractors like Santhosh Patil and Prasanna D, who died by suicide.
Instances of contractors seeking mercy killing, the rise in GST charges from 12 percent to 18 percent, and package bids proposed by the government were highlighted at the protest.
Addressing the gathering, Madhav Naik, a contractor from Karwar who is also the president of Karwar Taluk’s Registered Civil Contractors Association, claimed that it was there that the “40 percent commission” demand started about one-and-a-half years ago.
‘I have evidence’
Soon after learning that the elected representative and government officials were colluding in the 40 percent commission demand, Naik had brought the matter to the notice of the Karnataka State Contractors’ Association in Bengaluru.
“Since then we have been gathering evidence and collecting documents and fighting against the system. As our fight became aggressive, elected representatives started filing defamation suits against me,” Naik told the gathering.
Madhav Naik claimed to have evidence of all 40 percent commission scandals in the Uttara Kannada district.
“If government orders a CBI probe, I will submit all these to the probe agency,” he said.