Despite the CAG's findings, the chief minister stated in the House that all was well
In April 2019, the Kerala government was updated by Central Audit and General (CAG) that the state police chief and his department have failed in following purchase norms set by Central Vigilance Commission and store purchase manual.
However, The Lede has found that even two months after being updated on the alleged corruption, Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala who is also holding the state home ministry portfolio, stated in the state assembly in June 2019, that all is well in police purchases.
He was responding to a question raised by VT Balram, an Indian National Congress (INC) MLA on fund utilisation under the Modernisation of Police Force (MOPF).
“The state police department has followed all norms set by state and central government agencies. Between 2016 and 2019-20, there have been purchases of items worth Rs 151 crore. In all purchases, all norms have been followed,” Pinarayi told the assembly.
However, by auditing the state police performance between 2013 and 2018, the CAG had found that the police chief and his department have failed in following norms in many instances leading to corruption and loss of money for the state.
In an exit conference, the CAG had updated the same by submitting its audit findings in writing with the additional chief secretary of the home department and state police chief.
And The Lede has found that during 2016-17 the state police department had bought bullet-resistant vehicles violating the store purchase manual norms.
The MOPF Scheme Book 2010, issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which governs the procurement, accounting and audit arrangements for MOPF stipulates that procurement of vehicles for VIP security is inadmissible under the scheme.
The store purchase manual of Kerala also provided for resorting to open tenders (invitation to tender by public advertisement), as a general rule, in cases of procurement of items costing above Rs 10 lakh.
And the AAP 2016-17 allocated Rs 1.26 crore to the police department for procurement of two Bullet Resistant vehicles.
An administrative sanction was accorded in January 2017 by Kerala for purchase of two bullet-resistant vehicles for Rs 1.26 crore to ensure security of VIPs, VVIPs and Z+ category visitors to the state.
The administrative sanction was accorded by the Kerala government subject to the condition that the relevant provisions contained in the store purchase manual/open tender shall be strictly followed in all cases of purchases/software development.
Audit observed that the state police chief, without calling for open tender as required under the store purchase manual, constituted a technical committee which evaluated in July 2017 vehicles from three manufacturers and recommended the purchase of Mitsubishi Pajero from M/s. Hindustan Motors Finance Corporation Ltd., for Rs 55.02 lakh.
Subsequently, the department placed supply order in August 2017 with M/s. Hindustan Motors Finance Corporation Ltd. for two bullet-resistant vehicles without inviting tenders at a total cost of Rs 1.10 crore.
Audit observed that the SPC had as early as in April 2017, obtained the specifications and Proforma Invoice from the suppliers of ‘Mitsubishi Pajero Sport’ much before the meeting of the technical committee in July 2017, clearly indicating that the vehicle had been identified for purchase and that there was no intention to procure the vehicle under open tender or even limited tender.
Prior sanction of the Kerala government was also not sought for by the SPC before making an advance payment of Rs 33 lakh to the supplier in September 2017.
According to CAG, the SPC in procuring the Bullet Resistant Vehicles violated MOPF scheme guidelines which prohibited procurement of vehicles for VIP/VVIP security utilising MOPF funds.
“More seriously, Audit observed that the SPC was persistently and knowingly violating the MOPF scheme guidelines because an earlier Concurrent Evaluation of the MOPF Scheme in Kerala, conducted by the MHA in September 2014 had pointed out that similar vehicles purchased earlier under MOPF and deployed for VVIP security purposes were against MOPF scheme guidelines. Further, the action of the SPC in placing the supply order and releasing the advance amount without inviting tenders violated extant norms,” the CAG report reveals.
Thus, the procurement of the Bullet Resistant Vehicles was unauthorised and was effected in complete violation of the conditions stipulated in the store purchase manual.
Interestingly, an unstarred question was asked by MLA P Ubaidulla in the assembly on February 03 this year.
The question was addressed to Pinarayi who is also the home minister.
However, the question had gone unanswered.
According to Roy Mathew, a political analyst, the chief minister knows that violations have occurred in the purchase. “So, he has remained silent in the assembly. He wants to hide the failures,” Roy said.
An Unstarred Question is one to which a written answer is desired by the member and is deemed to be laid on the Table of the House by Minister.
Thus it does not call for an oral answer in the House and no supplementary question can be asked thereon.
However, until the time of publication of this report, an answer for the MLA’s query was not available in the Kerala assembly website.