The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) has been forced to cancel 74 tenders floated in February after city-based NGO Arappor Iyakkam, alleged 'pre-fixing' and corruption in the issual process. In a reply to the anti-corruption initiative, the Managing Director of CMWSSB stated that all tenders received in connection to the pumping stations project have been cancelled by the competent authority.
The tenders floated were in connection to outsourcing operation and maintenance of metro water pumping stations across Chennai. The closing dates of for these tenders which were to be submitted to the Superintendent engineer at the CMWSSB office was February 26, 27 and 28. Upon receiving complaints of the contract being 'fixed', Arappor Iyakkam conducted a sting operation. A member of the NGO, Zaheer Hussain, posed as a contractor and went with an empty envelope to the office. He then video-recorded 'goondas' outside the Superintendent engineer's office, stopping him and asking him to go to a hotel room in Ashoka Hotel, Egmore to meet a certain Purushothaman who headed the Metro water contractors’ association.
In the clip released in February, Zahreen is seen being stopped outside the office room even as a long line of contractors wait. An older man in white, hands over the phone to him and says that he need to go to Ashoka Hotel to meet 'people' for the contract. On the phone line, Purushothaman then allegedly asked Zahreen to come meet him at the hotel. This was allegedly so that the contractors could bribe the association head for the tender.
When TNM contacted Puroshathaman, he denied any involvement in 'fixing' the contracts for the project.
"How is it possible for me to even interfere in this tender process where so many other contractors are involved. These allegations are false," he says. But when asked if he was at the Ashoka Hotel at that time, he does not deny it. "Yes, after going to the office I went to the hotel for about 20 minutes," he adds.
In addition to this, the older man in the video at the CMWSSB office alleges, "This is all going through the Minister (rural and municipal administration S P Velumani)."
Another man in the video also alleges that the Minister's PA was waiting at the hotel too.
Writing to CMWSSB after the video was shot, Arappor Iyakkam alleged, "It was very shocking to see outsiders in such huge numbers stationed outside the room where tenders need to be submitted and threatening bidders inside the Metro Water office itself and preventing them from bidding. All this happening in the office is not feasible without the support and knowledge of Government officials. This clearly points to pre fixing of tenders by public authorities in collusion with select contractors. "
The NGO further alleged that their member was informed of the Minister's involvement in fixing of all contracts and asked that it be investigated.
"The above anti-competitive behaviour of the Metro Water and the goondas in its head office is fundamentally against the laws of the land namely TN Tender Transparency Act, Prevention of Corruption Act and Competition Act," said the letter sent to the CMWSSB.
In connection to this, Arappor Iyakkam demanded that all 74 tenders be cancelled, an inquiry be held against those involved and an end-to-end online system be created to submit tenders.
"After sending the letter, we have been following up through RTIs for three months. They have now replied saying the tenders will be cancelled," says Jayaram Venkatesan, convenor of Arappor Iyyakkam.
However, no formal inquiry seems to have been initiated by the water board. The association head Purushothaman told TNM that he is yet receive any call or notice for clarification of his role in the matter.
"These tenders directly affect how the pumping stations are maintained and this in turn determines the water that goes back into our fresh water bodies like lakes," says Jayaram. "In an audit we conducted in 2016, we found that these stations are understaffed and in order to save electricity and man power they allow untreated sewage back into water bodies. This is all a consequence of corruption in the tender process. The contractors pay money to get the tender and are then not held accountable for the work they do."