The Tamil Nadu FiberNet Corporation (TANFINET) has been accused of modifying the tender norms for laying optical fiber cables in the state. TANFINET is allotted the work of laying optic fiber cables in villages by Bharatnet. Arappor Iyakkam, an anti-corruption organisation, has alleged the TANFINET has modified the conditions for eligibility to bid for the project in favour of a few specific companies. The organisation has demanded action against the top officials of TANFINET for modifying the eligibility conditions approved by the Tamil Nadu Infrastructure Development Board (TNIDB).
The organisation has submitted a petition to the chief minister, Central Vigilance Commission, Competition Commission of India for the alleged actions of the TANFINET through the corrigendum.
‘CORRIGENDUM FAVOURS CERTAIN COMPANIES’
The TANFINET, in a corrigendum published on April 5, when the nation was under a complete lockdown, modified the conditions for bidding. The initial notification for the cable laying works to connect all the villages with internet connection worth Rs 1,950 crores was published on December 5 and 6, 2019.
The convener of Arappor Iyakkam, Jayaram Venkatesan, said, “The corrigendum was modified by TANFINET to favour certain companies. The notifications released in December 2019 are being modified through a corrigendum in April by the TANFINET to reduce competition. The modified conditions strongly play in favour of certain big companies.”
The substantial increase in the turnover of the bidding companies and experience in cable laying works are claimed to be done with the rationale of reducing competition and favouring corporate companies.
TURNOVER/EXPERIENCE REQUIREMENTS RAISED
The initial notification required the sole bidder or lead bidder to have a minimum cumulative annual turnover of Rs 405 crore for the last three financial years (FY 2016-17, FY 2017-18, FY 2018- 19).
The corrigendum notified that the sole bidder or the lead bidder has to have an average annual turnover of INR 405 crore for the last three financial years. “This is a major anti-competitive clause as the required turnover has been increased by about 300%. This has resulted in turnover requirements to increase from almost 40% of the tender value to 120% of the tender value,” added Jayaraman.
The requirements for the consortium companies and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) are made even tougher to restrict competition. The cumulative experience in the last three years has been changed to experience in each of the last three years in Package B, C and D again which will result in eliminating bidders. (The initial notification was published for four packages A,B,C and D with values of Rs. 350 crores, Rs 550 crores, Rs 550 crores and Rs 500 crores respectively).
‘NORMS FIXED BY TNIDB VIOLATED’
The eligibility conditions for the bidders were framed by the executive committee of the TNIDB led by the Chief Secretary to the government of Tamil Nadu. The TNIDB is constituted with 15 other secretaries to decide on such policies.
Jayaraman further added, “The modification released through the corrigendum is in violation of the decision of the TNIDB. The logic and reason to increase the turnover and experience multiple times when they have been vetted and approved by secretaries of 15 departments is still unclear.”
The then principal secretary of the Department of Information Technology (IT), Santhosh Babu, submitted a request for voluntary retirement during January. Reports also emerged claiming that he submitted the request owing to the pressure from the top brass to modify the conditions in favour of certain companies.
The immediate transfer of certain officials including the principal secretary from and to the department of IT and TANFINET was also questioned by the opposition parties. The chief minister or the minister for IT did not respond to the allegations. The present modification amid the pandemic raises questions over the urgency as well as the intention of the TANFINET.
Also read: COVID-19 Lockdown: No Relief for Garment and Tailoring Workers in TN