NGO Arappor Iyakkam had alleged that the conditions on the tenders floated by TANFINET made only a few firms eligible to apply.

 Centre cancels Rs 2,000 cr TN Fibernet project over irregularities flagged by NGOFile Image
news Corruption Saturday, June 27, 2020 - 12:29

After a Chennai-based anti-corruption NGO flagged irregularities in the Rs 2,000 crore-worth BharatNet project undertaken by the Tamil Nadu Fibernet Corporation Limited (TANFINET), the government of India has cancelled the tenders. Following this, Arappor Iyakkam, the NGO, has demanded that the state minister for information technology be removed from his position.

In a letter dated June 26, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) stated that a meeting was held on June 23 via video-conferencing led by the Additional Secretary of the DPIIT and attended by officers from the government of Tamil Nadu, TANFINET and the complainants -- Arappor Iyakkam, the Chennai-based NGO, Tejas Networks and TEPC, New Delhi. “..based upon comments/feedback received from stakeholders, it has been considered that the bidding conditions incorporated by TANFINET in the bidding documents are restrictive and discriminatory in nature. As such, TANFINET should scrap the tender and re-invite the bids with non-restrictive qualification criteria,” the letter stated.

Arappor Iyakkam had flagged the tenders as favouring specific companies and had sent complaints to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu; Chief Secretary; Secretary to Department of Telecommunications; Central Vigilance Commission; Competition Commission of India; and the DPIIT since April 2020. Based on its complaint, the DPIIT had, in May 2020, ordered a stay on the project and directed the government of Tamil Nadu to file a report on the complaint. The DPIIT had also directed the state government to not finalise the purchases related to this project unless all the issues raised are addressed by the relevant authorities.

In its complaint, Arappor Iyakkam had pointed out that the government of Tamil Nadu had altered the conditions for firms to participate in the tender, resulting in restriction in the number of applicants. These changes were brought in through a corrigendum in April and included tweaks involving the conditions related to the firms’ turnover and experience to be eligible to participate in the bidding process. According to the NGO, these tweaks made only a few big companies eligible to participate in the tender process. It also alleged that the state government had transferred two IAS officers of TANFINET when they resisted these changes.

The NGO, in a statement on Saturday, said that in the meeting conducted on June 23, the government of Tamil Nadu did not provide any valid reasons behind bringing in the changes to the tender conditions. “(The) Joint Secretary, Dept of Telecom then shared his findings on the complaint. He clearly stated that the changes in the Tender made on 15/04/2020 including Turnover, Experience and proof of concept were restrictive, prohibitive, discriminatory and violated the CVC guidelines and DPIIT orders,” the release said, adding that the Joint Secretary of the Department of Telecommunications recommended that the tenders be cancelled and new tenders be floated. In addition to this, the NGO pointed out that the DPIIT also found that the conditions for routers violated the Make in India order of 2017.

Seeking the removal of the state IT Minister from his post, Arappor Iyakkam said, “This has also disproved Minister R B Udayakumar’s claim that there is no favouritism or illegality or irregularity in the tender.”