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AG greenlights airports revamp

Attorney General has clarified there was no legal bar on proceeding with a single bidder, reports Arun Kumar.

india Updated: Jan 03, 2006 12:27 IST

Setting aside all apprehensions on the Mumbai and Delhi airport modernisation programme, Attorney General Milon Banerjee has clarified that as long as the exclusion of other bidders was not illegal, i.e. de hors the provisions of RFP (request for proposal), there was no legal bar on proceeding with a single bidder.

The Civil Aviation Ministry has referred three issues to the Attorney General; conflict of interest, validity of evaluation by consultants instead of Airports Authority of India (AAI) and legal issues in going ahead with only two bidders. These issues were raised by some members of the IMG.

On conflict of interest of advisors, the AG has stated, “It cannot be said that there is a conflict of interest and that the alleged commercial relationship would vitiate the entire process of evaluation by the financial consultants.”

On evaluation by consultants, the AG argued, “There is no question of separate evaluation by AAI as the advisors of the AAI and AAI cannot be seen as two independent entities. As long as the AAI, through its senior functionaries, was associated, it satisfied the stipulated condition.”

In fact, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), stated that the apprehension raised in the inter-ministerial group (IMG) on the conflict of interests and lack of transparency had been suitably put to rest by the opinion of the AG. “The fact that only one bidder has been selected for each airport does not ipso facto imply that process lacks transparency. The process of selection is to be closely scrutinised to come to such a conclusion,” said DEA Secretary.

In the IMG meeting, the DEA Secretary argued that there was no reason to suspect that the selection process was biased.

“Considering the importance of the project, any unusual delay couldn’t be supported and if we decide to go for a de novo process, it would raise larger issues of credibility,” he further stated.

In a note prepared by the Committee of Secretaries (COS) after their meeting on December 24, it was also clarified that Secretary, Department of Legal Affairs, had also expressed his satisfaction over the evaluation process, especially in view of AG’s advice.

The AG had concluded that the modernisation plan of the major airports had been hanging fire for sometime now. "The delay in the proceeding with the matter is certainly proving detrimental to the process and, therefore, it is in the public interest to proceed with the finalisation of bids," the AG said.

In the CoS meeting, Cabinet Secretary B.K. Chaturvedi said, “Since the members of the CoS were not technically qualified to assess the entire process of evaluation, it would be prudent to take the assistance of a very eminent and technically qualified group who would advice the committee on the entire process as well as about the concerns raised by the members of IMG on specific issues.”

He observed that a group consisting of eminent persons in the field like E. Sreedharan of Delhi Metro and DGCA Satinder Singh would not only ensure that the committee got proper inputs to arrive at a fair conclusion but would also take care of the issue of credibility of the decision making process as far as public perception was concerned.

The group of technical experts will submit its report to the CoS by January 10, 2006.

First Published: Jan 03, 2006 00:42 IST