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The court had directed in April that an inquiry be conducted into the role of the municipal commissioner after it had prima facie observed that the commissioner was “instrumental” in “illegally” granting a contract in favour of Kotia Projects to run and develop the lake.

After the Gujarat High Court last week expressed its displeasure at an inquiry report that gave a clean chit to the Vadodara municipal commissioner for awarding a contract to Kotia Projects to develop and manage Harni lake, where a boat capsize killed 12 students and two teachers on January 19, the state government on Wednesday told the court that it proposes to conduct a disciplinary inquiry against then incumbent commissioners.

The submission came after the division bench of Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Pranav Trivedi reiterated its displeasure with the inquiry report submitted by Principal Secretary (Urban Development) Ashwini Kumar and the report’s failure in explicitly specifying any fault at the end of the then incumbent commissioners.

While the second expression of interest (EOI), inviting bids for management and redevelopment of the lake was issued by Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) in December 2015, when H S Patel was the commissioner, the finalisation of bid in favour of Kotia Projects – by way of issuance of work order in 2017 — took place when Vinod Rao was the commissioner. Kotia Projects had failed to qualify when the first EOI was issued by VMC.

The court had directed in April that an inquiry be conducted into the role of the municipal commissioner after it had prima facie observed that the commissioner was “instrumental” in “illegally” granting a contract in favour of Kotia Projects to run and develop the lake.

CJ Agarwal, while addressing Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, said: “There is no clarity in the report as to what extent the first incumbent (Patel) completed the process. Report does not take note of the office note where the (then) municipal commissioner has put up his signature and what has been done. Report is like a story. It is a kind of maze created in the report so that we may not reach any conclusion.”

Trivedi concurred, “Both incumbents (Patel and Rao) had not shown the kind of approach that ought to have been shown, that appears to be the picture.”

CJ Agarwal said: “This is not acceptable. If the senior officers of the state (principal secretary) are doing this (failing to explicitly pin the blame on the incumbent municipal commissioners), then we are finding the state in a very difficult position… we want an impartial, fair inquiry.”

Trivedi then said: “So, the state wants to get it (role of then municipal commissioners) inquired disciplinarily. That is not my statement, I am instructed to make this statement (by the state).”

Noting that it will be passing appropriate orders, the HC said: “You complete the action and bring the results before us… There has to be a deterrent… every time you cannot leave and ignore and close your eyes. We are not in a position or a society where everything is perfect but if we are finding fault, we cannot keep our eyes closed and then from a responsible officer who is supposed to act in a particular way. They are not children or novices, they have experience in the field. When the expectation is not met, then it requires inquiry.”

“And we are only proposing an inquiry, we are not saying sack them or hang them but at least a fair inquiry to understand what happened and why it happened,” it added. The HC will hear the matter next on July 12.

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