By Brijesh Pandey
WHO WAS the mystery woman whose missive questioned the award of a lucrative contract and put two officials under the scanner? On 30 October 2009, the Organising Committee (OC) of the 2010 Commonwealth Games received a complaint from one Sangita Goyal, purportedly convenor of the Anti-Corruption Trust. However, the name of the writer, the organisation — even the Noida address from which it was supposed to function — have since been found to be fictitious.
The allegation was that “Lalit Bhanot and VK Verma were indulging in corruption in OC” by favouring Swiss Timing over other companies for award of a contract for the Games, which would cause a loss of Rs 25 crore to the country. A copy of this complaint also reached the then Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) Pratyush Sinha. But documents accessed by TEHELKA show that the missive was a red herring, perhaps designed to shift attention from other Central government officials also involved in this decision — and equally culpable if the contract was ‘fixed’.
The saga began with the expression of interest (EOI) issued by the OC on 21 March 2009, which stated that as per information available, only Swiss Timing was qualified for providing turnkey services for timing and scoring of sporting events. The eligibility criteria were so narrowly defined that only two companies (Technovision, Italy, and Mondo, Delhi) applied.
Thus the woman’s complaint, which amounted to an anonymous letter, set in motion a whole chain of events that, in effect, relentlessly kept the finger of suspicion for the next 18 months on certain officials while letting others off the hook.
Just before the Games from 3-14 October, a CVC report leaked to the media alleged corruption in the award of many Games contracts, confirming the public’s suspicion of money flowing into private pockets. On its part, TEHELKA did an exposé on the fact that the tender submitted by a rival company, MSL Spain, for time-keeping equipment was not even opened (Tenders Get Short Shrift, 18 December 2010).
On 24 February this year, the CBI arrested former OC secretary general Lalit Bhanot and director-general VK Verma and charged them with entering into a criminal conspiracy with Swiss Timing and other unknown persons to cheat the government in the Rs. 107 crore bid. On 15 March, former OC Chairman Suresh Kalmadi (he was removed from the post by the newly appointed Sports Minister Ajay Maken on 24 January) was grilled for eight hours by the CBI over irregularities in the Games.
But TEHELKA has accessed documents that show the scope of the probe needs to be much wider as two ministries and many bureaucrats were involved in the whole process that resulted in the Swiss company winning the tender for the Games. Minutes of a meeting held on 17 December 2009 by the Finance Sub- Committee show that the decision was cleared by the MS Gill-headed sports ministry, the urban development ministry and public sector company Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd (TCIL).
To be more specific, the Finance Sub-Committee comprised of Urban Development Secretary M Ramachandran, Sports Secretary Sindhushree Khullar, Games CEO Jarnail Singh and Additional Secretary of the Finance Ministry Vilasini Ramchandran. These officials cleared the OC decision to award the Rs. 107 crore tender to Swiss Timing. Special invitees in this meeting were Joint Secretary in the sports ministry Rahul Bhatnagar, Director in the OC Derek Philips, and consultant Brian Nourse.
In the minutes of the meeting, the Committee headed by Ramchandran noted that even re-tendering would result in zeroing in on the same firm as there appeared to be a consensus on this among the technology consultants. It concluded that selecting Swiss Timing “appeared to be the correct decision in the present situation”.
All the relevant papers were sent to the sports ministry for evaluation — at Kalmadi’s behest
On 24 April 2009, the EOI evaluation committee had concluded unanimously that Swiss Timing was the only firm that met the criteria. A week later, Lalit Bhanot wrote to the Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Youth and Sports, informing that, as agreed, EOI was published in newspapers and the website.
Only two companies, MSL Software, Spain, and Swiss Timing, submitted bids on 4 November 2009. A committee of four looked into the bids and submitted its report to the OC two weeks later, saying that it was not unanimous in its decision. As the committee report was not unanimous, the pre-qualification bid was referred to TCIL.
On 25 November 2009, TCIL Executive Director (Technical) JS Chabra wrote to the OC that “Swiss Timing, Switzerland, meet all the pre-qualification criteria as specified in the RFP (Request for Proposal) whereas MSL Software do not meet all the criteria as specified in the RFP.”
Based on the TCIL report, the OC referred this matter to the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) for its opinion in view of its wide experience in conducting the games. The same day, the CGF replied that “they will not comment on the RFP process or its subsequent analysis. However, they were of the opinion that they were not aware of a situation whereby MSL Software has provided the full TSR solution to a major multi-sport event such as the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. They (MSL) certainly have provided elements of this, e.g. some of the OVR at the last Commonwealth Games in the Melbourne”.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, it mentions that Kalmadi had agreed that the entire TSR procurement case with its accompanying documents, evaluation reports and Request for Proposal be forwarded to the Ministry of Sports for independent evaluation and further evaluation. And it was after this that the Technical Sub-Committee and Finance Sub-Committees were formed, and eventually cleared the tender.
No wonder, when Suresh Kalmadi was questioned by the media after his marathon interrogation by the CBI, he looked tired but not worried. “I have not taken any decision alone,” he said. “There are many agencies of the government that were involved in the Games, they should also be questioned. Organising Committee officials are being unfairly targeted.”
So why was the mystery woman so agitated about ‘bogus activity’ undertaken by Bhanot and the relations of Swiss Timing agent Anil Madan with the OC? Only she could have provided answers. But when the administration department of the OC deputed two officials, Abrar Ahmed and Delhi Police officer RP Sharma, ex- ACP in the PMO, to track her down in Noida, somebody else was found living at the Sector 15 address. They reported that the mails were circulated with “malicious intent of derailing the TSR procurement process”.
Incidentally, senior officers of the CBI, while not willing to give any kind of clean chit to Kalmadi, agree that the ambit of the investigations should also include central government officers. Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen.
Brijesh Pandey is Senior Correspondent with Tehelka