The decision to award a Rs 10,000 crore ICDS contract to a firm owned by the UP liquor baron smacks of government favouritism, says Virendra Nath Bhatt
THE RULING Samajwadi Party and the Opposition Bahujan Samaj Party are at each other’s throat on all possible issues in Uttar Pradesh. All issues that is, except Ponty Chadha. Or at least, so it seems. Both parties demonstrate an uncanny similarity in protecting the interests of the liquor baron.
The issue in contention is the Rs 10,000 crore three-year Supplementary Nutrition Food Programme contract that is likely to be bagged by Chadha’s firm. The nutrition programme targets children between six months and three years of age, pregnant women and lactating mothers under the government-funded Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). Interestingly, this is in clear violation of the Supreme Court order of 2004, which directed that only self-help groups, mahila mandals, village communities and village-based industries be given contracts for the supply of food for the nutrition programme. Instead, the UP government is now all set to hand over the contract to Great Value Food, a company owned by Gurdeep Singh Chadha alias Ponty Chadha.
This is also not the first time that Chadha has been awarded this contract; he had earlier bagged it in 2009 during the BSP regime under Mayawati. Under the scheme, food is to be served to women and children through 1.66 lakh anganwadi centres and 22,186 sub-centres across the 75 districts of the state. The ICDS scheme is Centrally-sponsored and also enjoys budgetary support from the state government.
In 2009, awarding the contract to Chadha’s firm had invited allegations from rival firms, who said that the terms and conditions in the tender documents were tailor-made to favour a particular company. In 2012, the contract is likely to be bagged by Chadha again — the process of opening the tenders and scrutiny of technical and financial bids has been completed. “Tenders were floated in September and bids were received from several companies,” says ICDS Director Shambhu Nath. “The company has been shortlisted and the technical bid for the contract has been finalised.”
Other firms who had also bid for the contract have approached the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court and challenged the terms and conditions in the tender document. “The conditions in the bid documents have been tailor-made to suit the interest of a particular cartel headed by a politically connected businessman. The UP government has inserted a condition that the firm applying for the supply of the nutrition food for the ICDS should have a manufacturing unit within UP,” says lawyer Altaf Mohammed Mansoor, representing the firms. “Another condition says the firm should have a minimum annual turnover of 25 crore, thus effectively throwing out the selfhelp groups and mahila mandals, contrary to the 2004 directions of the Supreme Court.” The matter is listed for hearing in the Allahabad High Court on 19 November.