LUCKNOW: Before BSP supremo Mayawati could recover from the setback of the “unexpected” defeat of her party in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, she has been dealt another severe blow by the Lucknow bench of the Allahahad High Court exposing a multi-crore racket in high security registration plates (HSRP) for vehicles.
HSRPs have unique identification numbers as well as a special hologram. They cannot be detached easily from a vehicle and will not be available with roadside vendors. During its last days in power, the Mayawati government invited tenders for HSRPs. On February 14, the Uttar Pradesh government awarded the contract to Mumbai-based Shimnit Utsch India Pvt Ltd. The problem in the Shimnit case was that the company’s rates for HSRPs were many times their cost in other states (see box). “It seems the country has become a haven for corruption and a safe sanctuary for corrupt people. It has to be treated strictly,” said a two-judge bench of the court, expressing shock over the manner in which the government officials violated laid-down rules and regulations in the HSRP tender process.
The devil in the Mayawati government decision to award the contract to Shimnit was evident to anyone who bothered to find out the rates the company was giving for the same plates in Tamil Nadu. And warnings there were aplenty, from all around and especially from the transport department. But the government went ahead with the deal anyway. Uttar Pradesh has about 1.10 crore motorised vehicles, with a similar number expected to be added to the vehicular population in the next 10 years.
A writ petition was filed by Celex Technologies Pvt Ltd and others through lawyer Gaurav Bhatia, challenging the contract awarded to Shimnit Utsch India. The court order of April 5 brought the sordid matter to an end. The court said, “The state government may forfeit the security deposit of M/s Shimnit Utsch India Pvt Ltd in terms of tender documents.” The court also directed the state government to readvertise the bid and complete the entire process of fresh allotment by April 30.
“The CBI shall complete the investigation within six months and will apprise the court of the progress of its investigation after every two months,” the court said. “The rate of high security registration plates in the state as quoted by M/s Shimnit Utsch India Pvt Ltd and accepted by the state government is exorbitantly higher than that of Bihar and Tamil Nadu, in spite of the fact that the number of vehicles in UP is not less than those state,” the bench observed.
Scams are not new to Mayawati’s scheme of things when in power. From her first inning in 1995 to the fourth which came to an end on March 15 last, it can be safely said she has faced no less than a dozen such scandals. The HSRP case, however, is the first time when the suspects are senior officers.
In a rare occurrence, the bench imposed a fine of `25 lakh and `50 lakh on Shimnit Utsch and the state government respectively in addition to ordering a CBI inquiry into the matter.
As soon as the judgment was delivered, there was an earthquake of sorts in the transport department and the Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC). Murmurs and rumours had been growing louder in the corridors of power from the day the UPSRTC started pursuing the case of the Shimnit for the HSRP in 2011. Three transport commissioners had opted out of the department by early October last year, seeking transfers so as to avoid association with a likely deal with Shimnit. Finally, Jitendra Kumar, who was already secretary of the Madhyamik Shiksha, volunteered to take up the job and signed the deal.
He’s singing a different tune now. “I have nothing to do with the deal, as whatever we did, was directed from the office of the chief minister,” says Jitendra Kumar, now set to become the main accused once the FIR is registered by the CBI in a day or two.