With the CBI now filing an FIR in the case, after intervention from the PMO, officials are hoping that the agency will now start an inquiry into the corruption.


NEW DELHI: The registration of the First Investigation Report (FIR) by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the alleged multiple level corruption in the Rs 7,900 crore Integrated Air Command and Control Systems (IACCS) project of the Indian Air Force has brought the spotlight on another alleged corruption that took place in the same project in 2015-16, but which was buried by a few corrupt officers with the Bharat Electronic Limited (BEL).
While the CBI inquiry is presently dealing with the corruption that took place in awarding the civil contracts of the said project, an inquiry by then Chief Vigilance Officer of BEL (CVO) had found that similar high-level corruption was indulged by BEL employees while procuring software for the same project. The Sunday Guardian has accessed a copy of the inquiry report prepared by the then CVO of BEL, S. Shiva Kumar, which was shared with the then Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC) Asit Gopal on 24 November 2016 that revealed this corruption.
The said 9-page report, despite clearly elaborating in detail the level of corruption that took place in the project, was never acted upon. Before being transferred, the CVO repeated his recommendations with the top level of BEL in April 2018, urging them to take action against the accused BEL officers, but despite that, no action was ever taken. With time, both Kumar and Gopal moved away from their respective positions.
Later, a whistle-blower in the case, Bhupesh Sharma, who was working as a manager with BEL, too wrote to the Ministry of Defence and the CVC in June 2019, apprising them about the said corruption that was done to favour an American company but then also no action was taken.
Sharma, a decorated officer, kept reminding the relevant offices about this alleged corruption till he died a premature death in the second Covid wave in May 2021, not long after he was suspended from BEL. With the CBI now filing an FIR in the case, after an intervention from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), officials are hoping that the agency will now also start an inquiry into the corruption that was indulged in by officials to favour a selected company while awarding the software for the said IACCS project.
The CVO in its report had recommended the black-listing of the company that got the contract, putting the BEL employees concerned in the Doubtful integrity list and take action against six employees of BEL including Y.K. Sahai, A.K. Roy, Anil Pant, M.M. Joshi, Sanjeev Jhangra and Smita Purohit.
As per the CVO’s report, at all the five levels—from tendering to the final selection of the said software—corruption took place. “During investigation of the subject case, it is observed that the procurement process was in defiance to the procurement guidelines. The identified areas of lapses during investigation are- Selection of Vendor, Formation of Technical Committee, Framing of Technical Specifications & Proof of Concept (PoC), Evaluation of Technical Specifications & Proof of Concept (PoC) and Concealment of Facts in the file.”
“There are various breaches and violations in the subject case that appear to be due to mala fide intentions at various levels viz., during drawing the specifications, arriving at scope of PoC, the way in which PoC was conducted and etc. The CMD may consider the recommendations and take necessary action on attempts done by delinquent officers, for the violations and wrongful losses to BEL” the report by the CVO, accessed by The Sunday Guardian, noted.
As per the CVO, a procurement committee was formed for the IACCS as approved by the then GM (NCS) of BEL which had the following members, Anil Pant, AGM (D&E-NCS1), Smita Purohit, SDGM (D&E-NCS1), Member Secretary, Geeta Garg, SDGM (F&A), YK Sahai, DGM (MM-NCS) and Bhupesh Sharma, Manager (D&E-NCS1).
Similarly, a PoC Committee was formed approved by then GM (NCS) which had the following members- Anil Pant, AGM (D&E-NCS1), Vikas Aggarwal, M (SRS) CRL, Ashish Srivastav, M (SRS) CRL, Sanjeev Jangra, DM (D&E-NCS1) and Anuda Aggarwal, SE (D&E-NCS1).
Two companies, M/s Primstech and M/s RTI, which was represented by M/S Mistral, applied for the said project. As per the CVO report, M/S RTI finally got the contract after the said contract was restricted to a single vendor in an arbitrary and a non-transparent manner.
“Procurement committee & POC committee were formed by GM/NCS. There is no clear-cut technical committee formed for this procurement. Though the procurement involves considering a lot of technical parameters and which involves a high value of approximately Rs 130 crores, the procurement committee was made with 2 Mechanical engineers, 1 Finance and 2 Electronic engineers. There is a lax approach by the management in approving a procurement team with non-technical members,” the CVO found.
The other contenders for the said project were “arbitrarily eliminated” without proper technical evaluations. One of the vendors, who met all the criteria, was not allowed to demonstrate the features of his product.
The CVC stated that though the “Value of the Tender is approximately Rs 130 crore, there was no proper method for vendor selection adopted. There were no technical teams formed for this procurement and when a procurement team has been approved, there is a lax approach by the management in approving a procurement team with non-technical members. The Technical specifications and POC for IACCS project were framed in ambiguous manner and evaluation of technical specifications and POC were done in a non-transparent manner, out of scope favouring Single Vendor.”
“It is evident from the documents that officials with BEL started working on evaluation versions of M/s RTI from October 2015, the vendor M/s RTI was predetermined by BEL during the initial stage before this RFP (Request for Proposal)”.
“There are procedural violations in the subject case and there appears to be a mala fide intentions right from the beginning of coming out of consolidated requirements, generating the specifications for this software instead of PP drawings, arriving of POC conditions, the manner in which PoC was conducted and M/s RTI’s bids was accepted and M/s Prismtech was eliminated. Also, uncalled for sudden transfers of executives from the existing areas is further confirming the affirmations. It is learnt that M/s RTI’s mala fide intention / involvement with BEL Team cannot be underestimated as ex-CMD (BEL) Ashwini Kumar Datta is working in M/s Mistral Solutions which requires further investigation by CBI,” the report states.
More importantly, the BEL officials cost a significant loss to public money, much of which was pocketed by them. The CVO stated, based on the Integrity Pact Bank Guarantee (IPBG) submitted by both vendors, it is observed M/s Prismtech, which was rejected, will have a financial quote between Rs 5 crore to 10 crore compared to Rs 132 crore given by M/s RTI. If tender is finalized based on the above, BEL financial loss will be approx Rs 120 crore. The wrongful gains by different executives of M/s BEL is yet to be ascertained.”
Integrity Pact Bank Guarantee is a pact that is a binding agreement between the government department and bidders for specific contracts in which both the government and the bidder promises that they will not offer or receive bribes.
The CVO had recommended disciplinary proceedings against the BEL employees. “The subject tender may be cancelled and re-tendering may be carried out. To include Anil Pant and Smita Purohit in the Doubtful Integrity List. The Procurement committee members and POC committee members shall be transferred to other departments and to monitor M/s RTI in its dealings and notices for showcase may be issued for blacklisting M/s RTI.”