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Vigilance chief recommends action in Rs 7,900-cr IAF project scam, even as BEL's management hunts down whistleblowers

New Delhi: The top vigilance officer in Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has recommended action in the Rs 7,900-crore air defence scam uncovered by Firstpost, but it is learnt that the top management has launched a hunt to identify the whistle blowers in a bid to cover up the revelations, which point towards a conspiracy involving BEL officials and private companies including foreign vendors.

The chief vigilance officer (CVO) Shiva Kumar has recommended the blacklisting of the design consultant of the Indian Air Force's (IAF) sensitive air command and control centres, and action against eight BEL officers for allegedly favouring domestic and foreign companies at the cost of taxpayer money and national security.

The CVO, in the recommendation note highlighting the deep-rooted corruption, has said irregularities in the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), which started in the UPA regime, were carried out with criminal intent and government rules were flouted in awarding contracts for civil work as well as plant and machinery.

"There were serious violations involving criminal intent through violation of procedure, misrepresentation of facts to management, favouritism to place order on pre-fixed vendors through vested interest, collusion of interest and attempts to make corporate losses. The unit (BEL) has violated MoF (Ministry of Finance), GFR (General Financial Rules) and CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) guidelines while appointment of consultants, contracts for execution of civil works and procurement of items for plant and machinery and various subsystems," the CVO directives reviewed by Firstpost said.

The comment by the CVO on the role of accused officers clearly indicates the need for not just departmental action but the initiation of criminal proceedings under the Prevention of Corruption Act and other penal provisions as well. A questionnaire sent to MV Gowtama, chairman and managing director (CMD) of BEL, seeking comments went unanswered. Department of Defence Production, Ministry of Defence and the CVC did not respond to a questionnaire sent on 20 April.

However, sources in the CMD's office revealed there had been no move so far to act on the findings and recommendations of the vigilance department, but a discrete hunt has been launched to locate whistle blowers.

 Vigilance chief recommends action in Rs 7,900-cr IAF project scam, even as BELs management hunts down whistleblowers

An IAF fighter aircraft. File image. PTI

"In this regard, top management is penetrating the computer and electronic records of all BEL employees in Bengaluru and Delhi," sources in the CMD's office said on condition of anonymity.

Sources quoted above also claimed that the top BEL management went into a huddle after the publication of the Firstpost investigation and subsequent recommendations by the CVO. It is learnt the officials were threatened for reporting massive irregularities in the project to the Prime Minister Office (PMO), defence ministry and the CVC.

The witch-hunt and silence of the BEL management is intriguing despite the CVO categorically pointing out the conflict of interest. The CVO said the design consultant of the highly-sensitive underground automated air defence command and control centres, M/s RD Konsultants should be blacklisted for the fraudulent transactions with BEL.

"Also as the agency (RD Konsultants) was involved in collusion of interest by executing the works through its affiliates, M/s CS Constructions Private Limited through subcontracting from M/s L&T, which has resulted in conflict of interest in the transactions with BEL. Financial penalty to be levied on M/s RD Konsultants as one way of punishment," the CVO said.

According to sources in BEL's finance division, since the IACCS project is worth Rs 7,900 crore and directly linked to national security, the audit committee comprising independent directors may recommend a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The finance division of the defence PSU had raised several objections over the award of contracts flagging rule-books but the officers were overruled by the top brass. Even BEL officer Nataraj Krishnappa, director (other units) had raised objections while processing a certain contract. Sources close to Krishnappa confirmed that a criminal investigation may be on the cards. A CVO is considered the extended hand of the CVC and constitutes an important link between the concerned organisation, vigilance watchdog and the CBI.

As far as the eight accused officers' roles are concerned, the CVO has observed that disciplinary proceeding including the suspension of an officer working in the infrastructure division (network-centric system), should be initiated for violating procedures and CVC guidelines, which eventually resulted in favor to M/s RD Konsultants.

"It is observed that there was suppression and concealment of facts by the committee in the proposal initiated during 2013 with respect of appointment of a consultant during 2011, for preparation of a preliminary project report. It is pertinent to mention that in the proposal for appointment of consultants during 2011, there is a noting from Senior DGM (Finance) that as per CVC guidelines issued dated 24 June, 2011, if M/s RD Konsultants is hired as a consultant for preparing a preliminary project report, then it cannot be considered for future similar requirements for an IACCS project. Although the proposal was agreed to by CMD, these facts are not brought in the consecutive file raised and the committee have succeeded to give an order on pre-fixed vendor M/s RD Konsultants. Because of concealment of information with regard to previous appointment and delinking of old files and notings, it led to misrepresentation and concealment of facts which resulted in the placing of order with prefixed vendor M/s RD Konsultants, although an open tender has been called for formality," the CVO note said.

The scathing CVO note also reveals that entire scam was engineered since screening stages in 2011 and 2013. It said that the defence PSU's committee, comprising officers, constituted to select the consultant did a shoddy job with a clear intention to favour a particular vendor.

"It is observed that the committee during the initial screening has brought down 26 agencies to 14 agencies with shallow scrutiny and with total arbitrariness. After presentations further screening has resulted in qualifying only six agencies. It is pertinent to mention that after presentations, M/s Super Dynamics was disqualified citing only two years turnover against the required pre-qualification of a three-year turnover. However, preferential treatment was given to M/s RD Konsultants. This shows a clear-cut case of vendor favouritism. During evaluation of pre-qualification criteria, the committee had violated the CVC guidelines and the company's work contract procedures with respect to evaluation of documents submitted by M/s RD Konsultants, non-evaluation of relevant documents pertaining to works completed by M/s RD Konsultants. It appears that wrongful clearance was provided to M/s Konsultants and the committee had facilitated M/s RD Konsultants for pre-qualification by violating the company’s procedures, to place the order on pre-fixed vendor M/s RD Konsultants. The committee during evaluation of pre-qualification criteria had created confused trends by changing the pre-qualification criteria twice without any reason and during such changes, post facto approvals are taken from CMD, forcing the management to committee's decision," the CVO observed.

The CVO report has flagged collusion with design consultant and other vendors involved in sensitive air force installations at 10 locations across the country. The report has termed an affiliate as a benami firm, raising suspicion over the role and connivance of BEL officers. The CVO has also attacked the design consultant and BEL management for rigging the confidential contracts.

"The agency M/s RD Konsultants also was involved in collusion of interest by executing the works, through its own benami company M/s CS Constructions Private Limited which has resulted in collusion of interest in the transaction with BEL and capturing both design and execution of project. Under para 4B 3.2.3 of the design and engineering contract, M/s RD Konsultants and his affiliates as well as sub-consultants have been debarred from providing any goods works or service. It is observed that M/s RD Konsultants had violated the contract terms, CVC guidelines by involving in collusion with benami through rigging of contracts. This happened at various levels. The quote by M/s RD Konsultants was nearly the same as that which was estimated by BEL which leads to doubt whether the methodology of estimate was known to M/s RD Konsultants. It is pertinent to mention here that, PK Bhola, then DGM (Marketing-Network Centric System) who was the main resource in BEL for raising all the files and interfacing with customer for the project, joined M/s RD Konsultants after his retirement. This is a matter of great concern," the CVO has noted.

The corruption in the project being handled by BEL was so blatant that even CCTV footage at the air force's command and control centres construction site was compromised to facilitate the collusion as evident from the CVO report, which said the surveillance cameras were "not kept in the proper record, which led to non-maintenance of measurement books, subleasing and collusion of parties".

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Updated Date: Apr 26, 2019 15:26:16 IST