NEW DELHI: The corruption rampant in government offices, especially in matters related to defence pre-2014, did not even leave a matter of national and strategic importance like Integrated Air Command and Control Systems (IACCS) untouched. This alleged corruption was executed by some officials of Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), a Government of India undertaking, under the Ministry of Defence.
However, the three BEL officials—Man Mohan Pandey, R.K. Goyal, and Sumit Krishna—who prepared the inquiry report, which brought in the open the alleged scam that took place while awarding the contract to build the IACCS sites and indicted top officials of BEL for colluding with private companies, are now fighting a costly and a seemingly never-ending legal battle following their termination from the job.
The three officials were first suspended by BEL on 17 May 2019, less than seven months after they submitted their damning report on 3 October 2018 to the Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO) of BEL. The CVO then, on his last day of office, on 29 March 2019 in his report on the scam, confirmed the findings of the three members of the committee and after adding his own findings, named multiple top officials of BEL for their role in the corruption.
In its response, an irked BEL management, led by the then CMD of BEL, M.V. Gowtama, who is now working with a private company after retiring from service in June 2021, terminated all the three from service on 30 September 2020 on various grounds including “accessing confidential documents beyond his term of reference and sharing documents with people who are not a part of BEL”.
Documents accessed by The Sunday Guardian show that terms of reference or the mandate given to the three members by the CVO-BEL for the Investigation were defined under 40 points, which were duly followed by the three officials. Gowtama, in other words, punished the BEL officers for doing their job of investigating the alleged scam, something which they did on the directions of the CVO. Incidentally, Gowtama, too, was at the critical post when the said tender was awarded to R.D. Konsultants.
Devoid of any financial benefits, the three officials are now depended on support from family and friends to survive and take care of their family, even as they await the next date in Delhi High Court, which is now slated for July 2023, with BEL fielding legal giants like Sandeep Sethi and Mukul Rohatgi to fight these three officials in the court.
The said project has been described in multiple government documents as a project of “national importance”. According to the report prepared by BEL’s then CVO, S. Shiva Kumar, a 1987 batch Bihar cadre IAS Officer, who is now retired, and signed it on 29 March 2019, the last day of his office, a committee headed by MM Pandey, who has been described as “a senior officer of repute” was appointed after the initial three member committee that was constituted to enquire into the scam and headed by Arun Kumar Raheja, Syed Shakir Hussain and Madan Mohan Roy submitted a “perfunctory” and “irrelevant” report.
The Sunday Guardian saw the report prepared by Shiva Kumar which confirms the finding of the three-men enquiry report and recommended exemplary punishment against the erring officials. However, while none of the people named in the two reports—the internal enquiry report that was prepared by Pandey and the subsequent report that was prepared by Shiva Kumar—and those named in the CBI FIR have been arrested or questioned till now.
On the other hand, the three officers who revealed the corruption are struggling to get their voice heard even as they are reaching out to the offices of the Defence minister and the Prime Minister.
“All doors were closed for them until one of the Engineering batchmates of Pandey (whom he had not met for almost 38 years) came to know of their troubles through a BHU-IT WhatsApp group. The said batchmate, using his old ties, sounded the PMO about this vindictive approach of the BEL against the three officials after which the PMO got involved and ordered an investigation. It was after that in November 2021 that the case for CBI inquiry was put up by MOD to CBI which led to the subsequent registration of the FIR in December 2022,” a common friend of the three officials, familiar with the developments, told The Sunday Guardian.
The Sunday Guardian has also found that the two senior officers with the Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO)—who verbally recommended to the BEL committee to give the contract of the IACCS project to the erring company, RD Konsultants—are still in service and, like the other top BEL officials who played a key role in this alleged scam, have not been named in the CBI FIR.
These two officials are B.K. Singh, who was then Additional CCE, DRDO, and M.S. Rathore, Scientist “E”. Their name has been mentioned in the inquiry report. CVO Shiv Kumar, while agreeing with the findings of the report made by Pandey stated that “after a careful study of the IO’s (Investigating Officer) report, such observations are concurred and agreed upon by corporate vigilance”. The CVO report in its 15-point findings, while agreeing with the findings of the report prepared by Pandey and his two members team which has been brought out in the Sunday Guardian in its earlier report (Some officials and accomplices connived to damage India’s key strategic asset) stated that it found “vendor favouritism, manipulations involving criminal intent through violations of procedures, misrepresentations of facts to management, favouritism to place order on pre-fixed vendor through vested interests, collusion of interests and attempts to make corporate losses” in the tendering process.
It also released six-point recommendations, none of which were followed by BEL officials. This included blacklisting RD Konsultants for engaging in fraudulent transactions with BEL, for being involved in a conflict of interest as it executed its work through one of its subsidiaries companies while subcontracting the same to Larsen & Toubro (L&T). The CVO also recommended levying a financial penalty on RD Konsultants. The CVO had called for disciplinary proceedings against the committee members who gave the contract to RD Konsultants without scrutiny of the submission of work done by it and the fake documents that it submitted to get the tenders.
In his report, the CVO named senior officers of the rank of General Manager, Deputy General Manager and Assistant General Manager including R.K. Handa, Gurujit Singh, T.K. Moitra, Virender Kumar, Saleem Parvez, Dibyendu Bidyanta, Manish Goyal and B.K. Pant—all of BEL—for being a part of this conspiracy. Of these names, the CBI has till now zeroed in only on Handa, Singh and Goyal, while keeping the two DRDO officials, the other BEL officers, including subsequent CMDs out of the purview of its investigation.
All the other officers, including the two DRDO officials who were a part of the selection committee—B.K. Singh and M.S. Rathore—are not a part of the initial FIR filed by the agency on 7 December. According to investigators, the probe will be widened to include the timeline and transactions that came after the then CMD Sunil Kumar Sharma retired. Sharma has been named in the CBI FIR.
RD KONSULTANTS: THE ‘PILLAR’ OF THE SCAM
The BEL had successfully exhibited the first prototype of this underground facility in 2004 to the Defence Ministry and the Indian Air Force (IAF) after which it initially got the order to build five such sites in September 2007 which was increased to five more sites later. As per the investigators and multiple reports, at least 26 companies had responded to the government’s initial tender to prepare the initial report for the ten sites whose cost was estimated to be around Rs 3,150 crore. This was later inflated to Rs 7,900 crore.
However, this tendering process has been described as a “formal process” by the inquiry committees as all points in the contract were drafted in a way to ensure that the said company (RD Konsultants) got the contracts to consruct the project at all the ten sites. The CVO, in a scathing indictment of Larsen & Toubro (L&T), stated that the awarding of the tendering to L&T at exorbitant rate, the sub-contracting of the same to other company makes it clear that the RD Konsultants and L&T were colluding with each other.
The CVO further found that the quote of RD Konsultants was the same as was estimated by BEL initially leading to “doubts” whether the relevant details were known to RD even before the contract was advertised.
The investigators and the inquiry report found that P.K. Bhola, who was one of the vital men behind this contract as DGM Marketing, BEL and has been described as the “main resources” in BEL for this project, joined RD Konsultants after retirement.
As per investigation, the said company, which is in the centre of this multi-thousand crore scam, was an “old hand” at DRDO and had multiple government officials at its payroll which helped it in getting government contracts. The said company came into existence 1 April 2010 by a partnership between Ruby Kant and Suresh Kumar Anand and yet it was given a contract to build a strategic project within three years of its existence despite not having the experience, finances or the manpower.
According to officials, the expertise for making self-contained and stand-alone underground buildings as was needed for the IACCS existed with one of DRDO’s wing, Software for Project Information Centres (SPIC) which was headed by Dr S.K. Vasudeva for a period of 10 years (from 2001 to 2011, after which he was made the head of Research and Development, DRDO before he retired in 2013). Vasudeva had undergone official training on design and construction of these underground buildings in Poland as well as in Germany that was sponsored by DRDO.
During the initial phase of the tendering of the project, the defence ministry had proposed that the civil structure for IACCS would be done by DRDO and the order for software and related hardware equipment was to be supplied by BEL. This was so because BEL had no core competency in the field of civil construction of underground blast proof stand-alone buildings
“This is where the corrupt officials in DRDO started pulling the strings. They proposed to the Air Force that the order should be placed as a turnkey to BEL. This was done so that corrupt DRDO officials could manipulate the whole design, construction and implementation of the underground buildings through vendors controlled by them (since for selecting design and details of underground buildings, DRDO’s involvement had to be there). Surprisingly the address of RD. Konsultants was the same as that of S.R. Ashok and Associates (which had been executing orders of civil construction of underground buildings for SPIC, Delhi),” an official aware of the development stated.
“The main Partner in R.D. Konsultants, Suresh Kumar Anand, was the husband of Sarita Anand (who was Director in S.R. Ashok Associates and sister of Mr. Sudhir Kumar Marwaha, the owner of S.R. Ashok). The second partner, Ruby Kanth (sleeping partner who runs a school in Vasant Kunj) was the sister of Shweta Sethi Bhuchar (who is wife of Rahul Bhuchar, who is the owner of C.S. Constructions). Hence it is clear that RD Konsultants was a shell company floated by the owners of S.R. Ashok and C.S. Constructions through their relatives. Both the partners in RD Konsultants have no background in designing strategic underground buildings. Suresh Kumar Anand had worked in private companies earlier that deals with machineries while Ruby Kanth is running a school from her residence in Vasant Kunj. Their only qualification is that they are related to owners of S.R. Ashok and C.S. Constructions. RD Konsultants is a shell company that was formed for getting the order of design Consultancy for IACCS project so that the ordering and civil construction can be manipulated,” the official added.
The CBI FIR, apart from the BEL officials, has named Suresh Kumar Anand, Sudhir Kumar Marwaha, Rahul Bhuchar, RD Konsultants, S.R. Ashok and Associates and C.S Constructions as accused in the case.