Sold at rates that are far lesser than the original ones, these spares are of inferior quality, and thus have much less life and efficiency, both affecting the corporation’s operational efficiency and hence profitability.
According sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Purchase Wing of the MTC were procuring poor quality parts at cheap rate, though the bills presented were inflated to claim full cost. This, they say, is the reason why the MTC buses are poorly maintained.
The heavy-duty rubber balloons used in air breaks is an example that many cited as a case in point. “A premium quality air balloon will cost around Rs 40,000. But the Purchase Department buys it from a local manufacturer at Rs 20,000,” said a source. This, the person added, hits the life of the product and thus that of the vehicle.
“A quality product will have a life span of up to 10 years. But the duplicate ones may last only for few months,” the source pointed out.
Another source pointed out a more common product – the tarpaulin sheet that is used on the roofs to fix leaks, a common complaint among regular commuters. As per the procedure, the tarpaulin sheet should ideally be 3mm thick, and not less than 2mm so that it can resist the wind. However, according to sources, the maintenance teams use sheets that are only 1mm thick. “Such sheets will be as thin as a wafer, unable to withstand the wind when the vehicle is on the move,” the person pointed out.
Last year, the workers had raised the issue, noting how around 1,300 sheets were of much lesser thickness. This was brought to the
attention of the top brass of the corporation, who then ordered the replacement of the stock.
Sources added the new stock has not yet arrived, the effect of which is likely to be felt in the coming months when the monsoon sets in. These are only some of the common cases that the workers’ unions have been highlighting. There have been instances where the damages were far more costly.
The corporation had to repair nearly 400 buses after their engines developed snag, allegedly due to using inferior quality lubricants. Insiders say it took several lakhs to repair each vehicle last year.
Similar is the case with break liners, which are allegedly procured from local manufacturers despite the poor quality. The workers have been raising many such complaints for several years, however, to little avail.
In a rare case, a deputy manager of the Purchase Department was demoted after finding malpractice to the tune of Rs 68 lakhs. During inquiry, it was proved that the department bought the goods from a private agent in Chennai without a ‘purchase slot’. “The agent had no manufacturing unit on its own. Instead, he procured goods from various units and sold it to the corporation at a high margin,” sources said.
“Quality managers should be held accountable for procuring spare parts from private contractors who supply poor quality products,” said P Balakrishnan, president of the State Transport Employees Union, noting how the present arrangement gave rise to the widespread perception of corruption.
“The important demand placed before the State government is to replace the ageing fleet with new vehicles. The upkeep of buses is not satisfactory for various reasons. Without maintenance, these buses cannot be plied, as many have crossed their stipulated age,” Balakrishnan added.
MTC Managing Director Anbu Abraham was unavailable to comment.
Flaws In Upkeep
- Number of MTC workshops - 8
- The maintenance team carries out daily, weekly and monthly inspections. Vehicles undergo bumper-to-bumper maintenance, including electrical works, changing lubricants and replacing damaged parts
- Drivers enter complaints in a logbook maintained at the depots. The assistant engineer of the depot considers the nature of complaints and recommends rectification procedures. The vehicles will be sent to the Central Workshop in Chromepet if they have damaged parts, where it will take around three days
- The Central Workshop will carry out body works. The workshop receives 100-150 complaints a month over accident repairs, body damages and leaky roofs