File photo of Kerala CM inaugurating the KSFE website
File photo of Kerala CM inaugurating the KSFE website|Photo credit: Kerala CM website

Ravi Pillai’s Son Gets KSFE App Contract By Violating Norms

In an exclusive investigation by The Lede, it has come to light that the company was formed just 47 days before the tender was invited

Rejimon Kuttappan

Rejimon Kuttappan

An investigation by The Lede reveals that an IT job provided to AIWARE, an IT company owned by Indian-origin Gulf businessman Ravi Pillai’s son Ganesh Ravi Pillai, was reportedly done by violating norms. The job was for creating an app for the government-owned Kerala State Financial Enterprises (KSFE).

Ganesh is Ravi Pillai Group’s (RPG) top official. RPG is a USD 7.8 billion (revenue) construction heavyweight. Ravi Pillai was in the news recently when he gave up a Rs 60 lakh food bill of Lok Kerala Sabha (LKS) meeting as a row erupted. The food for LKS was served by Pillai’s hotel, who is also a member of the LKS.

AIWARE, formed 47 days before the KSFE invited tender, was awarded 67 lakhs to build an app for Kerala State Financial Enterprises Limited, a public sector chit fund and loan company in Kerala.

Mobile App For KSFE

Currently, KSFE has a core application “CASBA” for its business accounting, which is accessed by its branches through a private network. However, the new portal and apps were planned to be developed due to urgent business needs.

In August 2019, KSFE had invited an Expression of Interest (EOI) to set up a customer portal, mobile customer app and door collection agents app intended to provide KSFE customers with the facility to view and manage their accounts at their convenience.

Through the portal and app, the customer shall get all chitty/loan details like instalment dues, due date, current amount due and total amount dues added against his portal or mobile app user ID.

There would be a facility to make payments using a payment gateway interface, which will enable the customer to make the payment through various standard options like net banking, credit card and debit card. Apart from the online payment facilitation, some utility functionalities are also to be enabled in these applications.

Conditions Apply

Interestingly, the KSFE document had categorically said that the company sending an EoI should have experience in design, development of Public Web Portal and End Consumer Mobile Apps for Banks, Non Banking Financial Corporation or agencies of the government at state and national levels.

The document also had stated that tenderer should have specifically published a minimum of three Mobile Apps in Google Play Store or Apple App store with 10,000 plus downloads within the last three years, of which one shall be with above one lakh downloads.

And the bidder must provide references of at least three clients for software development, supply, maintenance, integration during the last three years, where the order value was minimum of Rs 10 lakh.

On the bidder’s financial, the KSFE states that the bidder should have had an annual turnover of more than Rs 1 crore during each of the last three financial years as evidenced by the audited accounts of the company or division. Start-ups registered with the Kerala Start-up Mission and those registered with the centre’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) shall be exempted from previous experience and turnover requirements as provided in GO (Rt) No 36/2018/SPP dated 17/09/2018.

The KSFE also states that the bidder should have made operating profit in any one of the last three financial years (2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18).

Formed Days Before Tender Invitation

The Lede has found that Ganesh’s company was formed some eight months ago, just 45 days before the tender was called by the KSFE and the paid up capital of the company is just Rs 5 lakh.

According to Kerala Start-up Mission documents, AIWARE was formed on 07 June 2019. Ganesh’s company has created a single app.

According to the Kerala Assembly document dated 12 November 2019, AIWARE had formed a consortium with Thought Ripples Private Limited and VST Mobility Solutions to get the KSFE work.

The government version is that as AIWARE is registered in the Start-up Mission, it does not have to prove its work experience.

There is no GO (Rt) No 36/2018/SPP. It is GO (Rt) No 36/2018/SPD, which details the Store Purchase manual. Interestingly, in the manual, it clearly states that concessions are allowed for companies that take up only projects up to Rs 20 lakh.

Here AIWARE is doing a project worth Rs 67 lakh.

On 12 November 2019, replying to a question in Kerala assembly, state finance minister Dr Thomas Issac had said that AIWARE and two other companies in the consortium are doing the job.

Start-Up Mission Norms Violated

However, he didn’t explain which company has the experience to carry out the job.

“Expression of Interest was called for one company. But now, it’s a three-company consortium carrying out the work. Additionally, only Thought Ripples has registration in Start-up Mission. VST does not have it. From this, we can find that concessions were given to a company which didn’t have registration with Start-Up Mission,” a whistleblower from KSFE said, adding that KSFE senior officials had declared that the app would be online by January.

It is now March but the app is yet to be seen.

Additionally, quoting GO (Rt) No 36/2018/SPD the whistleblower said the Start-ups have to develop and provide a product, not service.

“Here, AIWARE and its two other companies are providing service to KSFE, which is a denial of an opportunity to other Start-ups,” the whistleblower added.

Commenting on the alleged corruption, Roy Mathew, a senior journalist in Kerala, said that this is just like what PM Modi has done for Anil Ambani in awarding the Rafale deal.

“CPM general secretary had alleged that Ambani’s inexperienced company was given the deal. Here also the same has happened. CPM government has given the job to Ravi Pillai’s son’s inexperienced company,” Roy added.

Neither KSFE nor AIWARE responded to The Lede's queries on this issue. This report will be updated when they respond.

The Lede