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Punjab government cancels, re-auctions mines allotted on lone bids

AG termed bids improper after dept alloted mines; majority of these had gone to friends of Congress MLAs

punjab Updated: Jul 29, 2017 09:10 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab government,Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh,Punjab Congress
Since the single bids for sand mine auctions did not meet any of these criteria, all the 16 mines have been cancelled by the government.(HT Photo)

The controversy over sand mines bagged by aides of power and irrigation minister Rana Gurjit Singh had overshadowed another glaring lapse by the Congress government. Single bids were allowed for 18 mines, of which 16 were also allotted after they paid the security amount. In case of the two mines in Hoshiarpur, the single bidder had not made the bid on the day of auction.

The single bids had also raised a stink as a majority of them had gone to friends of Congress MLAs, as highlighted by HT in its report ‘Friends of Congress MLAs bagged mines on single bids’.

It was only after the violation was highlighted that the mining department, which is under the industries department, a portfolio held by chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, sought the opinion of Punjab advocate general Atul Nanda.

The AG, in his advice, cited the Supreme Court and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) guidelines which say single bids can be allowed as H1 bidder by a competent financial authority only under “rare and exceptional” circumstances.

POLITICIANS VS BABUS: NEW TURF WAR?
  • It can trigger a new turf war between politicians and their advisers and the officialdom in Punjab. Congress ministers like Sidhu and Manpreet Badal, state party chief Sunil Jakhar and many MLAs are have been openly criticising the functioning of state’s official machinery. A chargesheet on IAS officers for toeing the will of their political bosses may be seen as yet another affront.
  • The file on action against three IAS officers has been put up to the personnel department, which is under the CM.
  • “It will finally be sent to the CM for sanction as he is the final authority to recommend action to the union personnel ministry,” officials in the chief minister’s office said.

These include natural calamity and emergency declared by the government and when procurement is possible only from a single source. It can also be allowed when a supplier has exclusive rights and no reasonable substitute exists and if an auction was held on different dates but there were no bidders or bids offered were too low. Lastly, when there is intrinsic evidence that the single bid is financially depressed and there is prospect of getting a much higher bid.

Even if the single bids met any one of these stipulations, they can be allowed only after recording the justification and permission from the competent authority, the AG had said.

Since the single bids for sand mine auctions did not meet any of these criteria, all the 16 mines have been cancelled by the government.

Department officials said the letters of approval issued to the single bidders were conditional and the 16 mines were put on the block again in the re-auction of 43 mines in first week of July along with those whose bidders had defaulted on payment of the security amount.

SAME ADVICE FOR SIDHU BUT BIGGER FALLOUT

When local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu gave orders to chargesheet three IAS officers and four superintending engineers (SEs) for awarding public works worth Rs 500 crore on single bids during the previous government, the AG advice was the same — single bids are permissible only under rare and extraordinary circumstances.

“Our department sought the AG’s advice as the engineers had, during the public hearing, cited a circular dated February 22, 2011, issued by the department regarding guidelines for acceptance of single bids,” he said. The AG has held the circular as “not binding”.

But Sidhu’s orders to frame chargesheet against the three IAS officers – Sonali Giri, GS Khera and Ghanshyam Thori – may have bigger fallout..

First Published: Jul 29, 2017 09:10 IST