Panaji, Feb 15 (IANS) Slamming the BJP-led coalition government for dragging its feet over probing a possible scam in the procurement of thousands of tablet-PCs for distribution to school students in 2013, the Goa Lokayukta has recommended a CBI probe to track down a cartel of businessmen who could have rigged the tender.
Goa Lokayukta Justice P.K. Mishra in his report, a copy of which is available with IANS, has also blamed the reluctance of the state government to probe the matter, due to the “fear of old skeletons” falling out of cupboards, while also ticking off then Chief Secretary Dharmendra Sharma for his lackadaisical approach vis-a-vis the probe.
“It would be more appropriate, the matter relating to further inquiry relating to the bidding process in 2013-14 in particular and bidding process before 2013 and after 2013 in general, is entrusted to a more independent body such as CBI,” Mishra has said in his report. The document was submitted to the Goa government last month.
Mishra also stated that his recommendation for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe, also stems from the fact that the state anti-corruption bureau had been dragging its feet vis-a-vis probing the possibility of “cartelisation” of the tablet-PC tendered purchase.
“From the very fact that the ACB has apparently kept quiet for about two years by now, it is apparent that the ACB is reluctant to bring out the matter to its logical conclusion by completing the inquiry and booking the persons responsible if any for any conspiracy or even corruption,” it further added.
In 2013, then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar-led government was one of the first states in the country to allot 47,000 free tablets to students from Class V and VI. The tablets were distributed amid much fanfare on Parrikar’s birthday in December.
Eventually, the scheme was withdrawn by a subsequent BJP-led ruling dispensation led by Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar in 2015, after Parrikar was elevated to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet as Defence Minister.
The Lokayukta probe followed a complaint made to the anti-corruption authority by activist Aashish Kamat, who alleged that the state exchequer had been defrauded by a cartel of businessmen who had manipulated the tender issued by the Goa government’s Information Technology Corporation. The complaint also estimated a scam of approximately Rs 12.64 crore in the purchase of tablet-PCs and violation of Central Vigilance Commission guidelines.
The Lokayukta in its report has said that the government’s dragging of its feet vis-a-vis the authority’s recommendation for a probe into the alleged scam, was perhaps to avoid old skeletons from tumbling out of cupboards.
“The main thrust of the report was a recommendation to inquire further in the matter relating to the bidding process in 2013-14 in particular and the bidding process before and after 2013 in general with a view to find out whether there had been a cartel formed during the year 2013-14 or during previous years or subsequent years,” Mishra said in his report.
“However, the state government for reasons best known to itself, or may be to avoid old skeletons falling out of cupboards does not want to enquire further into such aspect, notwithstanding the fact that similar process had been severely criticised in audit report,” the report also stated.
The Lokayukta report also picks on the role of then Chief Secretary for lacking promptness in signing off on the anti-corruption’s recommendations for a probe.
“It is also worthwhile to indicate that not only in this case but in every case, where the Chief Secretary as the competent authority was required to file ‘action taken or proposed to be taken’ report, no such report has been filed within the stipulated time in any of the matters,” the report said.
“This is indeed a sad commentary on the way the previous Chief Secretary had acted in respect of various reports of the Lokayukta where such Chief Secretary was the competent authority,” it added.