VIJAYAWADA: In yet another jolt to the TDP, the state Cabinet on Thursday decided to order a CBI probe into the alleged irregularities in the tendering process and execution of the AP Fibernet (AP Fiber Grid) project by the previous TDP government. It has also approved a CBI probe into the tendering and procurement of supplies distributed to the poor under the ‘Chandranna Sankranthi’, ‘Ramzan Thofa’ and ‘Christmas Kanuka’ schemes by the previous TDP government.
This is the second CBI probe sought by the State government against alleged corruption by the previous TDP regime. Earlier, it had ordered investigation by the premier agency into alleged irregularities in the Amaravathi capital project.
The Cabinet, which met under the chairmanship of Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, took the decision to seek a CBI probe into the erstwhile TDP government’s Fibernet project and festival gift hampers based on a report submitted by the Cabinet sub-committee. Briefing the media after the meeting, Information and Public Relations Minister Perni Venkataramaiah (Nani) said the sub-committee had unearthed irregularities in the tendering and execution of the Central government-sponsored Fibernet project.
“The then government handed over the project to Vemuri Harikrishna, his (Chandrababu Naidu) close aide, who was accused of stealing EVMs. It (the then government) awarded the tender to Tera Soft, even though it was not the lowest bidder and did not have the eligibility to execute the project,” Nani said.
Irregularities in tender process too, says Nani
“Similarly, even as a Central agency came forward to monitor the execution of the project and quoted the lowest bid, the then government preferred Tera Soft for monitoring purposes also,” Nani added.
The CSC also found irregularities in the procurement of Set Top Boxes for the project. “Instead of giving the contract to the lowest bidder, the then government asked four companies including Tera Soft to supply the STBs and preferred to procure the boxes from Tera Soft alone,” Nani said adding that as per the sub-committee, the corruption in this entire episode runs up to Rs 200 crore.
“This was done intentionally for the benefit of Tera Soft and through them, the State Cabinet ministers, Chief Minister and those owning the company,” he alleged. Similarly, the CSC also detected ‘glaring’ irregularities in the tendering process and procurement in the ‘Chandranna Sankranthi,’ ‘Ramzan Thofa’ and ‘Christmas Kanuka’ schemes. “The CSC found irregularities to the tune of `150 crore in the procurement of supplies for the three schemes. There are glaring irregularities in the tendering process too,’’ Nani said, disclosing that as such, the Cabinet has resolved to hand over the probe into these two aspects to the CBI.
The TDP reacted sharply to the Cabinet move. The Telugu Desam Legislature Party at its strategy meeting discussed at length the government’s decision. The TDLP leaders claimed the YSRC government faced stiff opposition from the people for stopping the gifts given to them on the occasion of festivals and to cover up this, it was raising the issue of corruption in the schemes. “The government is unable to use the project properly and is slinging mud on the TDP government,” TDLP alleged.
What did Cabinet Sub-Committee find?
- AP State Fibernet Ltd incorporated under the Companies Act 2013 in Oct, 2015
- Objective: to make available high quality and affordable digital services
- The work of Implementation and Management of Aerial Optical Fibre Grid (Phase I) to establish statewide optical fibre network infra with an estimated cost of Rs 329 crore was put to tender on 7-7-2015
- Tera Software declared successful bidder among four firms. It quoted Rs 320.88 crore.
- Tera Software participated in the bid with two other firms as a consortium. But one of the two firms Horizon Broadcast LLP was found ineligible.
- Nonetheless, a favourable opinion was sought from the AG. The experience letter submitted by Tera Software purported to have been issued by Signum Digital Networks Pvt Ltd was termed false and malicious
- Bharat Broadband Network Ltd is a telecom infrastructure provider, set up by the Government of India under the Department of Telecommunications for the establishment, management, and operation of the National Optical Fibre Network to provide a minimum of 100 Mbit/s broadband connectivity to all 250,000 gram panchayats in the country.
- BBNL gave consent for only GPON technology but APSFL opted for IMPLS.
- BBNL sanctioned Rs 851.23 crore for GPON tech and revised it to Rs 907.94 crore.
- APSFL estimated the cost at Rs 1,410 crore citing IMPLS tech.
- Contract awarded to L&T consortium without administrative approval from either the Govt of AP or Govt of India
- Tenders were also invited for appointing a project monitoring Agency for implementation of Fibre Grid Phase 1 being done by Tera Software
- 2 firms participated and the qualified bidder Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd quoted Rs 23.29 crore. After talks, the revised bid was Rs 14.72 crore.
- But then MD of APSFL K Sambasiva Rao found the quoted price high and decided to go for a second call
- TCIL not considered despite being the lowest bidder
- In second call, five firms participated in the bidding process. Gemini Communications Ltd was selected.
- Letter of Approval issued on 6-11-2015. Note did not contain info on evaluation & selection of the firm, or prices quoted by all firms
- Field inquiries revealed Net India Pvt Ltd owned by V Hari Prasad actually carried out the PMA work
- Undue advantage was also given to Tera Software in procurement of set top boxes
- After completion of Phase 1 of AP Fibre Grid as on Feb 2018, APSFL decided to go for further contract for operation and maintenance of the network
- Tenders invited on 12-02-2018. Three bidders participated of which one was disqualified.
- Tera Software was awarded the contract for one year starting Aug, 2018. Actual O&M cost increased from Rs 29 cr to Rs 42 cr — which needs to be assessed further
The Festival Gift hampers
- Govt of AP initiated festival schemes, Chandranna Sankranthi Kanuka (CSK), Chandranna Ramzan Thofa (CRT), from 2015, to BPL and Anthyodaya card holders.
- Deviating from regular practice of procuring of commodities from MSTC Ltd, a mini ratna PSU, the Civil Supplies Corporation utilised NCDEX, an online private commodity exchange platform for 2015 and 2016, for procurement.
- From 2016, it inked an MoU with Tender Wizard, an e-auction platform allied to Yes Bank, for CRT (2016), CSK (2017) and CRT (2017) and CSK (2018) for procurement.
- Inspite of Govt of AP issuing orders for utilisation of e-auction services through Konugolu, a govt portal, from 27-09-2018, the civil supplies corporation opted for procurement through NCDEX for CRT (2018) and CSK (2019) festivals.
- Open auction by these platforms facilitated bid rigging and formation of syndicate by the supplier firms
- Non-participants were given supply orders on 6 occasions; single bids on 8 occasions and allotment was done on 7 occasions without any bids.
- Total amount sanctioned was Rs 1,766.28 crore for CSK and CRT from 2015 to 2019
- Commodities worth Rs 565.94 cr procured under PDS, Markfed, OILFED and other govt agencies.
- Rs 1,200.34 crore spent on procurement of commodities by utilising services of private auction platforms
- On comparison of supply prices with Central and State standard prices, total variation amounts or loss incurred is Rs 158.38 crore (Central wholesale price) or Rs 150.42 crore (State wholesale price)
Assembly session next week; new schemes soon
It was announced that the Assembly session will be held from June 16. The Cabinet also approved the YSR Cheyutha scheme and Jagananna Thodu scheme. YSR Sampoorna Poshana and YSR Sampoorna Poshana plus schemes were also approved