Technical error halts probe into Madhya Pradesh’s multi-crore e-tender scam
A private company given access to the e-tender portal had allegedly manipulated bids to benefit some companiesUpdated: Oct 26, 2020, 20:33 IST
The investigation into Madhya Pradesh’s multi-crore e-tender scam that appeared to be gaining momentum after the arrest of 8 people including three government employees in 2019 has hit a bump, people familiar with the matter said. An official of the state’s Economic Offences Wing said forensic experts recently told the investigating team that they had not been able to access at least five hard disks.
Investigators at the state’s EOW had confiscated 19 hard disk drives, cloned the drives and sent them over to the forensic wing of Delhi-headquartered Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) in July 2019. They were looking for evidence to back up charges of rigging and tampering of tenders worth Rs 3,000 crore. Some officials believe that the tenders floated by the Madhya Pradesh State Electronics Development Corporation for various departments could be worth Rs 80,000 crore.
“After waiting for 14 months, CERT recently informed the agency that it couldn’t open at least five drives that have details of more than 25 tenders due to a technical error which results in delays,” said the officer who is familiar with the matter.
“Five of the clones of the hard disks were probably corrupted and CERT officers are not able to access the data in it. The CERT has returned the hard disk drives and asked for disk imaging of the hard drives,” the official said.
The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government had recommended investigation of allegations of manipulation of the e-tenders in its earlier tenure May 2018. But it was only after a change in government that the economic offences wing registered the first FIR in April 2019.
There has been no breakthrough in the case.
The nine tenders valued at Rs 3,000 crore where there were suspicions of rigging were cancelled before any payment was made.
“If the CERT report finds tampering in other tenders, which were already approved and payment were made, the EOW will start a fresh probe. But it will happen only when the CERT report suggests tampering,” said the officer.
Rajesh Mishra, the superintendent of police of the economic offences wing said, “The whole investigation now depends upon the CERT report.”
“As the CERT has returned the five hard drives, we will do disk imaging of the same and send it back to the organisation. We will have to wait for the report”, said the senior police officer.
He added that the irregularities appeared to have been largely committed by a private company to benefit some other companies. “As of now, EOW hasn’t found any involvement of any politician in the scam.”
Till now, EOW has filed only one charge-sheet and booked 21 people mainly directors of five companies which got tenders due to tampering.
What is e-tendering Scam
The e-tendering scam was exposed by Manish Rastogi, the then principal secretary of science and technology department and head of MPSEDC. Rastogi detected issues in the tender process, which indicated tampering in the tender process. Rastogi had asked Antares Systems Ltd (ASL), an implementation agency appointed with TCS to ensure end-to-end e-procurement for submitting a root cause analysis of the error.
In its report, ASL confirmed the tampering and told the MP government that a breach in the system had been detected.
The directors of a Bhopal based private company were identified as the main accused. They were accused of hacking the system to access the e-procurement portal and approaching companies that had responded to the tender notice.
It turned out that the company had been given access to the portal in 2016 to carry out tests to improve the speed of the website. They went on to use this access to modify the content of the bidding process after the last date for submitting the tenders was over. The company directors allegedly changed bids so that its clients were the lowest bidder and got the contract.
A police officer said tampering had been established in three out of nine tenders while the reports of six tenders are being awaited.
Those who were arrested include three directors of the Bhopal based company, a director of a Bengaluru based IT company, an officer on special duty (OSD) in MPSEDC, two personal secretaries to former water resource minister and a middleman. The directors of five companies, who were stated to be beneficiaries, are absconding, an official said.