The Economic Offences Wing of Madhya Pradesh government lodged an FIR against “unnamed politicians and bureaucrats”, employees of five government departments and owners of eight companies for their involvement in an alleged Rs 3000 cr e-tendering scam. A police spokesperson said, more a year after the irregularities were reported.
According to EOW officials, the scam relates to how some firms allegedly illegally managed to hack the e-procurement portal hosted by the Madhya Pradesh State Electronic Development Corporation (MPSEDC) to see the e-tenders before the bid was to be opened and then make changes in their bids so that the favoured company illegally becomes the lowest bidder and gets the contract. The EOW investigated as many as nine e-tenders, all of which have been cancelled.
It was sometime in March, 2018, that some junior officials of Madhya Pradesh Jal Nigam Limited (MPJNL) red-flagged three tenders as a cross mark was appearing next to “Document content is modified”.
This was allegedly overlooked. But when an established technology and engineering firm complained to MPJNL that they had missed on a few bids by surprisingly narrow margins and that they suspected foul play, a probe was ordered.
The MPJNL asked the MPSEDC to look into the allegations and they asked Antares Systems Limited, a Bangalore based IT firm that had developed the e-procurement portal along with Tata Consultation Service (TCS), to conduct a Root Cause Analysis (RCA), which means what went wrong and where).
Antares in its report on May 5, 2018 submitted that three tenders of rural water supply schemes in Rajgarh and Satna had been tampered with.
On May 10, Antares submitted another report in which they said that tenders of six other contracts of the Public Works Department, Water Resources Development and MP Road Development Corporation had been similarly compromised.
Based on these reports and also his own internal inquiry, the then managing director of MPSEDC, Manish Rastogi, submitted a report to the state government and all the nine tenders were cancelled.
Superintendent of police (SP) Arun Mishra said, “The departments in question are Public Works Department, Project Implementation Unit, Madhya Pradesh Road Development Corporation, Water Resources Department and Madhya Pradesh Jal Nigam, which had floated tenders worth around Rs 3000 cr, between 2013 and 2014, that had been tampered.
The companies which benefited from the scam and whose directors/owners have been made accused belong to eight companies.” Mishra said cases were registered under the Indian Penal Code sections 420 (cheating), 468 (forging documents), 471 (using forged documents), 120 B (conspiracy), section 66 of IT Act and section 7 read with 13 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
EOW director K N Tiwari said the FIR was based on the report given by Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) in which they had identified the terminal/phone used to make the changes, the time the changes were made and the place where they made it.
We now have to identify these persons. The CERT gave us report in December and it took three months to file the FIR because we had to match the data with the departments and companies involved in the scam.”
The EOW officials, familiar with the case, said that most of the changes in the tender documents were made in Bhopal and were invariably made mainly during night, just hours before the opening of the bids.
The changes were made through the “Demo department” which was created in mid-2016 for training and practice for the department officials and bidders.
Some of the changes were made in the department offices and in some cases through private offices. The officials involved shared their log in IDs, passwords, e-digital signatures etc with others involved to carry out the scam, the officials said.
Reacting to the FIR, MLA and BJP vice-president Rameshwar Sharma indicated that it was vendetta by Congress government, “Why did the Congress remember the e-tendering scam just after the I-T raids that has exposed corruption among those who are close to chief minister Kamal Nath.”
Congress spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi denied vendetta had anything to do with the I-T raids. “In any case BJP should not complain because the FIR is based on report by CERT, a central government organisation. No one has been named. If the BJP is not afraid, why is it shouting itself hoarse?”
Earlier the I-T department had conduced raids for three-day against chief minister Kamal Nath’s officer on special duty Praveen Kakkar, Nath close associate RK Miglani and others associated with them.