Missing equipment of a dismantled exchange of 3,500 lines in Mullanpur in 2002 has once again brought to fore the corrupt practices prevailing in the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). The approximate depreciated value of this exchange was more than Rs. 1.5 crore.
A city-based advocate, Sukhjinder Kaur, after getting a tip off on the missing equipment of the exchange filed a complaint with the central vigilance commission and the chief vigilance officer of BSNL, New Delhi, with a copy to Indian Audit and Accounts Department, Postal and Telecommunication, in 2013. Soon after, a departmental inquiry was initiated, but it is pending till date.
As it happened, a telephone exchange named NEAX of 20,000 lines had come up at Ludhiana. Of these 13,500 lines were installed at Bharat Nagar exchange, 3,000 at telephone exchange in Gill village and 3,500 at Mullanpur in 1997-98. The cumulative book value of this exchange was Rs. 11.77 crore.
Due to technical reasons, the exchange of Mullanpur was declared unserviceable. In 2002, the exchange was dismantled and shifted to Baddowal due to non-availability of space at Mullanpur. As per the norms, the equipment of the dismantled exchange has to be deposited in the store, which was not done in this case.
Later in February 2014, RTI activist Rohit Sabharwal filed an application with BSNL asking about the depreciated value of the exchange, list of equipment and copy of FIR in case of missing or non-traceable equipment.
In a reply dated May 29, 2014, the divisional engineer telecom (outer area) Mullanpur gave information about the depreciated value but failed to give information on other questions.
The department stated that they had no information of the equipment that was “missing” and “non-traceable”.
Most shocking being the department’s reply to the applicant that the copy of FIR was not available, even as it is mandatory for government departments to lodge FIR in cases where government equipment or property is missing. The department even failed to provide information over the scrapped material.
When asked about details of the equipment available with BSNL, the reply stated that the “whole” equipment was shifted to BSNL store in 2009, even as it was missing since 2002.
On the contrary, in a reply under the ongoing departmental inquiry, sub-divisional engineer (SDE) (material) on February 10, 2014 stated that on the basis of deposit slips and stock registers, only NEAX racks were mentioned in receiving from junior telecom officer (group) Baddowal.
The receiving does not mention any “cards” in racks without which the racks are useless.
It is pertinent to mention that each card costs between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 50,000 and more than 800 cards and associated switchboard cables have no account in the records.
Even the Indian Audit and Accounts Department, Postal and Telecommunication audit office, Kapurthala, taking notice of the missing exchange raised questions on the basis of complaint.
The department has demanded whether battery sets, power plant, copper cables were supplied by SDE Mullanpur, along with details of the number of cards, power plant, cables during the decommissioning of the exchange, and whether they were deposited in the store or utilised somewhere else.
Despite repeated attempts, GS Julka, chief general manager telecom, Punjab was not available for comments.
While giving clarification on the dismantled exchange of Mullanpur, CS Bhanot, principal general manager telecom, said he could not comment on the issue as the inquiry was pending with the chief vigilance officer of BSNL, New Delhi.