Coming to the rescue of a ‘whistleblower’ Superintending Engineer of BSNL — who claimed that there was corruption in awarding a contract of over Rs 1.44 crore — the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) has stayed the CBI’s recommendation for regular departmental action against him.
Trouble started for Shailendra Sharma, who was instrumental in getting a CBI case registered in the matter in June 1997, after he questioned the probe agency’s decision to close the case against the officers who allegedly favoured a private firm and got it re-opened by the Director General of the CBI’s Anti-Corruption Branch.
The CBI, which treated Sharma as a star witness during the first round of investigation, but later accused him of not following CPWD manual and manipulating the Market Rate Justification. Sharma, posted as executive engineer in charge of the project work of construction of TE building at Lodi Road with MTNL in Delhi between January, 1995 and February 1996, prepared the MRJ.
Accordingly tenders were invited against duly sanctioned estimate of Rs 1.22 crore for construction of building, with provision of aluminum doors, windows ventilators and glazing etc.
Since the rates quoted by the lowest bidder M/s PMI were 33.72 per cent more than the estimated cost and the difference between the MRJ and the rates quoted was to the tune of 20.38 per cent, in January 1996 Sharma recommended rejection and recall of the tenders “in public interest”.
Following this he was transferred before the completion of his four-year term and H.R. Kaushik was made in charge. Kaushik prepared a fresh MRJ and the tender was awarded to M/s PMI for Rs 1.44 crore against an estimated cost of Rs 1.19 crore.
Sharma then registered a corruption case with CBI against Kaushik, superintending engineer Mul Bhushan, executive engineer R.C. Arora, M/s PMI proprietor M.L. Bansal and another firm owner for causing wrongful loss to the government.
Sharma alleged that despite the fact that a clear case of conspiracy to benefit M/s PMI emerged, the CBI closed the case. He met the Anti-Corruption Branch DG and got the case re-opened.
Accusing the CBI of recommending closure of the case against the accused officials by suppressing material facts, Sharma said out of nowhere the CBI recommended for initiation of regular departmental action for major penalty against him.
The CBI sent the findings to Central Vigilance Commission, which granted concurrence for initiation of major penalty proceedings against him, Sharma alleged.
Interestingly, when his case was sent for technical comments of the department, i.e., civil wing of BSNL did not find any fault or lapse on his part.
Sharma filed a protest petition before the special CBI court against the closure report. The court issued notice to the CBI on April 16, 2003 but the matter is still pending.
While maintaining that generally courts/ tribunals should not interfere at initial stage in such cases, a bench headed CAT Chairman Justice V.K. Bali said: “It is difficult to digest ... how the applicant (Sharma) contributed to the award of contract ... by no stretch of imagination it can be said that the applicant contributed to award of contract on higher rates.”
The CAT said: “it would not be in the interest of justice to proceed against the applicant at least till ... his protest petition is decided by the concerned court seized of the matter.”