NEW DELHI: On 7 December, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a First Information Report (FIR) against 12 named and one unnamed accused for their alleged involvement in a corruption case involving construction at 10 sites, including underground sites, across India that would house infrastructure and men as a part of the strategic Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS).
Out of these 13 individuals, six were or are associated with Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), which is one of the nine Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) which functions under the direct control of the Ministry of Defence. The rest are private individuals, contractors, and owners of companies, who from 2011 to 2017, in connivance with the BEL officials, siphoned off money that was allotted by Government of India (GOI) to build these IACCS sites. The total project is worth Rs 7,900 crore.
As per the CBI’s case, these senior BEL officials, some of whom, after retiring, went on to join other private companies, connived with the owners of a private company and allotted the entire project work to one company and its sister concerns in blatant disregard of all existing laws and rules. The IAF had initiated the process to build these sites in May 2011. These strategic IACCS sites (10 are planned across India) are being brought into existence to facilitate centralised command and control by automated integration of all air defence resources. For example, the Bengaluru node of IACCS that was inaugurated in 2019, is to handle the air operations of the entire Southern peninsula.
On 10 December, three days after the registration of the FIR, accused number one, Sunil Kumar Sharma, who was the General Manager (GM) and CMD, Network Centring System (NCS) with BEL at the time before going on to become the CMD, resigned as an Independent Director from “Paras Defence & Space Technologies Limited”, citing recuperation needed in view of “a major surgery” he had a few months back. Sharma had joined Paras on 8 January 2019 for a period of 5 years. As per official documents, he was/is associated as Director with Astra MicroWave Products Limited, Smile Electronics Limited, Power Grid Corporation of India Limited, Bhavyabhanu Electronics Private Limited and Powergrid Unchahar Transmission Limited.
Apart from Sharma, the CBI has named former GM, NCS, BEL R.K. Handa, the then Senior DGM (Marketing-NCS), S.S. Chowdhary, former Senior DGM (NCS), Gurjit Singh, the then AGM (Infra-NCS), BEL and presently working as General Manager (Engineering Services), BEL Complex, Bangalore, Karnataka, B.P. Pahuja and the then Manager (Infra), presently DGM (Infra-NCS), BEL, Ghaziabad Manish Goyal.
The others named private individuals are Suresh Kumar Anand, partner of a company named RD Konsultants that is based in Greater Kailash, New Delhi, Sudhir Kumar Marwaha, Director of another company SR Ashok & Associates, Rahul Bhuchar who is the Director of CS Construction, apart from unknown person(s).
The whiff of corruption in this matter of these strategic assets first came to light in July 2018, after the Chief Vigilance Officer of BEL started an investigation in the matter that was led by Man Mohan Pandey, General Manager, which was in continuance of a factual inquiry that was conducted earlier by Arun Raheja, Assistant General Manager. The Sunday Guardian has accessed a copy of the said report prepared by Pandey and submitted in October 2018.
The more than 100-page report lays down threadbare how the top BEL officials bypassed every rule that is in place to ensure that the contract of building the said IACCS sites goes to only one company—RD Konsultants.
The said company was asked to prepare the preliminary project report by the BEL committee without any tendering being done and on the basis of “DRDO recommendation”, a recommendation which was not even put in writing. Two of the members of this committee were from the Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO).
Then, in the next process, the said company was again included in the list of companies that would prepare the detailed project report (DPR) and the detailed design of the IACCS site, which was in blatant violation of government rules. R.K. Handa, who has been named in the FIR, played a key role in ensuring that RD Konsultants was first given the order to prepare the preliminary project report and then the DPR and site designs.
According to official sources, from even before the said tender was floated, the BEL and DRDO authorities had informed RD Konsultants and “tied” up with them and once the contract was released by Government of India, every step was taken by BEL to ensure that the said contract was awarded to the said company.
The company—despite not meeting the turnover criteria, boasting of being engaged in 75 government contracts within two years of coming to existence without submitting any proof to validate the same, no ground verification of its existing work by BEL—was awarded the contract.
The report by Man Mohan Pandey has also brought to the open how Larsen & Toubro Ltd, commonly known as L&T—which was awarded execution work of three sites, for which it was paid Rs 230 crore per site, against Rs 140 crore per site, which was paid to other contractors—subcontracted the work of the two sites to a company that was related to RD Konsultants, in gross violation of laws and rules. One of the named accused in the CBI FIR, Manish Goyal had earlier worked with L&T and was recruited by BEL for this specific project, despite not meeting the minimum criteria needed for the profile for which he was inducted.
The cost of the project kept increasing due to one of the other reasons that was communicated by the company to BEL. One reason for this was that the contractors did not visit the site regularly. The inquiry report also found that while RD Konsultants came into existence in April 2010, its sister concerns had already been awarded tender by the DRDO in the past. This indicates that the said company officials were already well entrenched within the offices of South Block and of DRDO and used their relations to get the ICASS contract despite not meeting any criteria as is clear from the inquiry report that states that the tender was awarded to it due to the “recommendation from DRDO”.
However, the CBI FIR has not mentioned the alleged connivance of DRDO officials and L&T employees with RD Konsultants and BEL officials. Sources in the agency told The Sunday Guardian that the documents on the basis of which the FIR was filed indicated the involvement of DRDO and L&T officials and once they were identified during the course of investigation, they too will be questioned. The Sunday Guardian reached out to the DRDO seeking a response on whether it had or was trying to identify the officials who had played a role in awarding the tender to the said company. No reply was received until the time this report story went to the press.
Many of the officials who retired from BEL later went on to join private organizations, including “Offset India Solutions” owned by notorious arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, who escaped from India in 2016 to London and is now awaiting extradition. The agency is investigating a total of 16 names, most of whom were associated with BEL and played an instrumental role in ensuring that RD Konsultants was given this sensitive contract.
Interestingly, RD Konsultants had engaged Professor T.N. Singh, who was with the Department of Earth Sciences, IIT Mumbai to check the “earth profile” of the sites where the underground structure of IACCS were to be built. Singh, as per an RTI response given by IIT, Mumbai did the consultancy, prepared and signed the report on the ability of the soil to handle these sensitive, strategic structures without even visiting the site physically, citing “strategic defence work”. Singh, now is the Director of IIT, Patna, Bihar.
As per the CBI investigation, out of the 9 IACCS sites, the incident of site collapse was reported from 2 sites. The CBI found that in one site, which was certified by RD Konsultants as “rocky soil”, turned out to be “loose soil”, because of which the construction developed cracks and the side walls collapsed in June 2017. The same happened at the other site too as a correct assessment was not done by experts employed by RD Konsultants.
According to brokers and liaison agents active in the region, the asking price for getting a government contract can be anywhere between 12% and 20% of the total work order. “If a contract is worth Rs 3,000 crore, the company which intends to get this contract, will have to spend Rs 350 crore-Rs 600 crore as commission that goes to the brokers and other concerned individuals. The said company then offsets this commission money from the work order that it gets and for a work that it was given Rs 3,000 crore by GoI, it will spend about 70-75% of it on the project with the rest going in one’s own pocket as commission and profit margin,” an individual familiar with such activities said.
This leads to sub-standard constructions and low quality material being used while constructing the buildings. The Sunday Guardian has accessed sensitive details why these sites need to be constructed in a particular manner while using quality material, but is not publishing them. In what should come as a concern for Government of India, especially the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which has been trying hard to weed out corruption from government offices, BEL’s top offices had suspended three officers who had exposed the irregularities in the IACCS projects.
Apart from Man Mohan Pandey, who headed the inquiry committee that held the officials of BEL and private companies responsible for the corruption, R.K. Goyal, Senior Deputy General Manager (Vigilance), and Sumit Krishna, Manager (Product Support) were suspended on disciplinary charges on 17 May 2019. However, the suspension order was later set aside by the Delhi High Court in October 2019.