Five years back and before the Election Commission (EC) sounded the poll bugle in December 2011, a private company hired by the Punjab Police had done bullet-proofing of two Toyota Land Cruisers for Rs 67 lakh per vehicle. Now, the police have bought 14 Toyota Land Cruisers to make the travels of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal comfy during the campaigning for the upcoming high-stake assembly elections. But, this time the bullet-proofing cost has come down to Rs 23 lakh per vehicle (Rs 44 lakh less than what was paid in 2011).
Despite this sharp dip in the bullet-proofing cost, the grand plans of Punjab Police to appease their political masters with 14 high-end Land Cruisers have hit a legal tangle that threatens to delay the induction of the new vehicles.
The cash-strapped Parkash Singh Badal-led Akail Dal-BJP government has splurged about Rs 19 crore on the 14 Land Cruisers’ fleet. The cost of each vehicle before bullet-proofing is Rs 1.32 crore.
The rationale behind having 14 vehicles is that a bullet-proofed vehicle has to be stationed in advance at each place the protectee visits within the state.
According to a four-page confidential note signed by director general of police (DGP) Suresh Arora and DGP (intelligence and special protection unit) Anil Kumar Sharma, a Maharashtra-based vendor, who had done bullet proofing of two Land Cruisers in 2011, has lodged a complaint with Punjab governor Kaptan Singh Solanki, CM Badal and five other state functionaries after failing to get the contract this time.
“…we have saved approximately Rs 40 lakh per vehicle this time. The total savings on 14 vehicles is about Rs 5.6 crore. This proves that we have not favoured any firm,” reads the police note reportedly sent to chief minister’s office.
Eyebrows are being raised in police and administrative circles over the procedure followed by the police in 2011 when the two vehicles were bullet-proofed at a high cost.
“The price of bullet-proofing in 2016 should have been higher than 2011. Surprisingly, it has come down,” a DGP-rank officer told Hindustan Times.
The plea of police is if the task of bullet-proofing is given to vendors outside Punjab, it becomes difficult to send vehicles for repairs to places such as Jaipur, Ahmednagar (Maharashtra) or Hyderabad. This results in unnecessary financial burden on the state and decreases the life span of the vehicle.
Thus, when tenders were floated this time, the condition was that the bidder should have a workshop within 100-km radius of Chandigarh. “Every repair of such vehicles has to be done in the presence of our technical staff and the clause was added in view of our future requirements,” the police officer said.
As per the police note, when the Maharashtra-based company had done bullet proofing of two Land Cruisers in 2011, it had a tie-up with Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML)—a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU). The BEML had nothing to do with bullet proofing of the vehicles. “The BEML was a face mask of the private company to bypass formalities as tenders can be awarded directly to a PSU,” reads the police note.
After bullet-proofing of the two Land Cruisers, the tie-up between the private company (that has now lodged complaint) and BEML was severed and does not exist any longer. “This tie-up was meant to bag the contract directly…This vendor has tried to hoodwink our department by furnishing wrong information in his latest tender document also,” the police note states.