Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had an apparently compelling argument to silence the opposition who had charged Kerala Police Chief Loknath Behera with favouritism while purchasing cameras and laptops for the Central Intrusion Monitoring System (CIMS) of the Kerala Police.
“All these decisions are made by Keltron, Kerala's total solutions provider,” the Chief Minister said in the Assembly on Wednesday, as if the mention of Keltron was enough to give a touch of respectability to all purchases. “The State is not required to pay anything from its pocket,” the Chief Minister added while dismissing the charges against his Police Chief. (CIMS is a project that links the surveillance cameras of high-value businesses like banks and jewellers and high-end homes to the monitoring system in the Police Headquarters)
However, the Comptroller and Auditor General has a different take on Keltron and Behera. The CAG report on General and Social Sector, which was tabled in the Assembly on Wednesday, shows how audaciously Keltron favours a particular company for its communication needs, and how it works closely with Behera to grant a coveted contract to a preferred supplier.
The report speaks of the Police Department's requirement for tablets with Wi-Fi and 3G sim slot. Keltron, being the solutions provider, issued an e-tender notification. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), it has to be noted, has mandated that specifications should be generic in nature.
But here is the specification for the tablet Keltron put out in its notification. 'Panasonic Rugged 7'. It was as baffling as putting out a recruitment ad that also names the candidate who would be selected.
“By specifying the brand name and model in the tender, Keltron effectively excluded other suppliers from submitting their bids,” the CAG report noted. In fact, one supplier (Pantel Technologies), thinking it was a mistake, politely informed Keltron of their inability to participate in the tender as their brand and model were different.
Keltron neither responded to the mail nor made changes to the notification. “The tender was tailored to ensure that the work was awarded only to Panasonic India,” the report said. A competitive bid, as specified by the CVC, was prevented.
Also, just when it got wind of the Police Department's need, it had written to Panasonic indicating the target price of procurement to be quoted by Panasonic advising them on how to go about bagging the tender.
The report also quotes a Keltron letter that throws light on DGP Behera's involvement. Behera wants Panasonic to lower its quote below rupees one lakh a unit but never questions why Panasonic alone was chosen. “This clearly indicates the vitiation of the tender process and collusion between Keltron, Panasonic and the Police Department in the procurement of the equipment,” the CAG noted.
The Police Department, in its defence, had said that Keltron had evaluated the models of two other suppliers before zeroing in on Panasonic. The CAG trashed the explanation saying there was no proof to establish that Keltron had followed a transparent mechanism of evaluating the suitability of various other brands before landing on Panasonic.