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Could MP's E-tendering scam prove to be Shivraj Singh Chouhan's undoing?

The state government for the moment seems to be taking refuge behind the fact that the tenders that were allegedly rigged have already been cancelled.

 |  4-minute read |   14-09-2018
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Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has emerged unscathed from major scams like the Dumper scam and the Vyapam scam in his almost 14-year-rule in the state, but the latest scam, allegedly involving his government, to hit the headlines – the e-tendering scam – could well prove to be his undoing.

For starters, the e-tendering scam of Madhya Pradesh allegedly involves several players, including the Madhya Pradesh State Electronic Development Corporation and its partner companies TCS and Bangalore-based Antares Systems with whom it had entered into an agreement on January 1, 2013, for customisation, integration, data migration, implementation and maintenance of e-procurement and tendering portal of the state government. The scam for now involves tenders worth over 3000 crores that were allegedly rigged and have now been cancelled.

The e-tendering scam was first flagged by Madhya Pradesh Jal Nigam's Tender Opening Authority (TOA) PK Guru who received an error message on the e-procurement system, saying 'the content has been modified' on March 3, 2018, a few days before the tenders worth around Rs 600 crores were to be opened in Bhopal.

Guru's complaint was marked to MPSEDC's then-Managing Director Manish Rastogi who conducted an investigation. Show cause notices (SCNs) were also issued to service providers Tata Consultancy Services and Antares System, and reached a conclusion that the tenders were indeed rigged to favour select companies by breaching the system.

Rastogi marked the findings of his investigation to the state chief secretary BP Singh, who, in turn, marked it to the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the state police, directing it to register a case. The EOW registered a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) in the case in June this year, but has so far not registered an FIR, claiming that the MPSEDC's operational hub in Bhopal first requires inspection from the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) to fix responsibility and collect the required electronic evidence. Three letters have already been exchanged between the CERT and EOW on this – but nothing seems to have moved.

chouhan-story_091318074232.jpgShivraj Singh Chouhan and his government appear keen on delaying, if not derailing, the investigations. (Photo Credit: PTI)

Rastogi in his findings has referred to the internal enquiry that was conducted by Antares on his directions in which it was concluded that the tendering process that was flagged by Guru and involved three water supply tenders worth around 600 crores was breached to benefit M/S GVPR limited, The Indian Hume Company Limited and JMC Projects (India) Limited.

Antares in its investigation also concluded the entire process was breached with the help of a dummy id PT_4 that was allotted to M/S OSMO IT Solutions Bhopal to carry out performance testing on the tendering portal in June 2016. OSMO is also empanelled with the Madhya Pradesh Agency for Promotion of Information Technology (MAPIT) to do performance testing.

Antares in its enquiry also concluded that the bids of the three companies mentioned above were modified to make them the lowest bidders after seeing the price bids of the remaining companies.

TCS and Antares on May 10, 2018, informed MPSEDC that their investigations had also revealed up to six more tenders of the Public Works Department, Water Resource Department and the MP Road Development Corporation that were similarly rigged. All the nine tenders, amounting to a little over 3000 crores, were later cancelled on directions from the state government.

The state government for the moment seems to be taking refuge behind the fact that the tenders that were allegedly rigged have already been cancelled, and the case referred to the EOW for investigations.

The questions that the government does not want to answer include the time since this scam was happening.

The dummy id PT_4 through which the system was breached was allotted to M/S OSMO IT Solutions of Bhopal in 2016 – since then, tenders worth over 10,000 crores have been processed by MPSEDC.

According to an estimate, MPSEDC, TCS and Antares have processed tenders worth over three lakh crores since 2013, when the three entered into an agreement.

The question is, will the EOW now revisit all these tenders?

Looks highly unlikely as Chouhan and his government appear keen on delaying, if not derailing, the investigations.

How else can the unceremonious transfer of Rastogi from MPSEDC soon after he blew the lid on the scam be explained?

Also read: Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections: Why there is no room for political courtesy in the state

Writer

Hemender Sharma Hemender Sharma @delayedjab

A chance reporter, reporting for India Today, Aaj Tak.

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