The Indian Navy’s first ever order for Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), robotic machines that help in surveying the seabed, is under a cloud with two potential vendors alleging that the contract, worth Rs 260 crore, was awarded to a Norwegian company by the defence ministry without calling for tenders.
The contract was awarded to Norway’s Kongsberg Maritime in February. Hydroid Europe, a company based in the UK, in a letter dated 13 April, alleged that Central Vigilance Commission guidelines and procurement procedures laid out by the defence ministry have been "disregarded while placing the orders for the equipment fit of the above vessels."
US-based Bluefin Robotics Corp, has also written to the defence ministry that due procedures were not followed. "I sincerely hope that, as per the procurement policy of the Indian ministry of defence, all major manufacturers will be invited to participate in technical and commercial negotiations prior to the award of the contract," said Bluefin’s April 24 letter.
AUVs, also called Unmanned Underwater Vehicles, are powered by batteries or fuel cells and can operate in waters as deep as 6,000m. The defence establishment uses them to ensure that there are no concealed mines or other explosive devices.
According to procurement procedures, the defence ministry can only bypass the tender route to award a contract if the supplies have features that are common with an existing platform. In this case, it was the first time that the navy was contracting to purchase AUVs.
This contract was awarded by the Alcock Ashdown Shipyard on recommendation from the Dehradun-based National Hydrographic Office, the survey arm of the navy. Neither the navy nor the defence ministry responded to multiple email queries sent by Mint over the last fortnight, though both confirmed receiving the questionnaire.
Meanwhile, a right to information application sent to the naval wing of the defence ministry by a Delhi-based individual, Ashok Kumar Shukla, was rejected by the ministry, citing that the information sought was exempt from disclosure.