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Changes to Rs 2000 crore tender favour big cos, alleges NGO

The Rs 2000 crore tender floated to lay optic fibre cables connecting 12,524 village panchayats across Tamil Nadu and provide broadband connectivity up to 1GBPS has run into yet another controversy.

Arappor Iyakkam, an anti-corruption NGO, on Monday sent a written complaint to the state and central government agencies alleging that the state information technology department had on April 15, quietly published corrigenda to the tender seeking to narrow down the participants.

The tender floated by Tamil Nadu, FibreNet Corporation Limited, a special purpose vehicle of the state government, was earlier at the centre of a storm in January when top IAS officer and then information technology(IT) secretary Santosh Babu was transferred out of the post. Its managing director MS Shanmugham had also been shunted out.

On Monday, Arappor Iyakkam released documents, which it said showed the changes in the corrigenda. For one of the packages of the tender, the bidders were earlier supposed to have a minimum cumulative turnover of Rs 405 crore over three years. Now, a corrigendum states they should have an annual turnover of Rs 405 crore for three years, Arappor convenor Jayaram Venkatesan said.

The Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) should also have a net profit in the three financial years, the corrigendum states. The clause asking for cumulative experience in last three years has also been changed to experience in each of the last three years in three packages, he said. “All these clauses are aimed at eliminating system operators (smaller players) and designed to choose specific big optical fibre cable manufacturers,” Jayaram said.

IT secretary Hans Raj Verma did not respond when asked to comment by TOI.

Retired IAS official M G Devasahayam said he had been closely following the tender and alleged that it was being tailored to ‘compensate’ a major Tamil Nadu-based company, which the state government had penalised earlier in another regard. “It is a shame that the government has brought in tender changes when there is a graveyard like atmosphere due to Covid-19. It is an example of bad governance,” he said.

The tender conditions had been vetted by 15 government secretaries on the Tamil Nadu Infrastructure Development Board (TNIDB), Devasahayam said. “For any changes to be brought in, the tender should be placed before the board again,” he said.

Jayaram said in its official complaint to the state government authorities, Arappor Iyakkam had named the two big OEMs which are allegedly being favoured.

―Times of India

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