PUNJAB’S LOCAL Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu Tuesday held a “public hearing” of four superintending engineers, who were suspended by him for allotting tenders of public works worth Rs 500 crore on single bids, in his office in Sector 35 here. The four SEs from three municipal corporations in the state – P K Goel from Amritsar, Kulwinder Singh from Jalandhar and Pawan Sharma and Dharam Singh from Ludhiana – went through the ‘hearing’ for over an hour in front of the media.
Sidhu had suspended the four officials last week as they had violated civic laws by giving contracts on single bids and also not routing the tenders through Finance and Contracts Committee (F & CC) and the civic body. Sidhu’s office sent invites to the media at the last minute, called it “public hearing” of the officials. Those who played the ‘jury’ along with Sidhu included MLAs Bharat Bhushan Ashu, a close aide of Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) chief Simarjit Singh Bains, Pargat Singh, Sanjeev Talwar, Dr Raj Kumar Verka, Surinder Dawer and former Amritsar mayor Sunil Datti.
The administrative secretary of the department Satish Chandra and Director K K Yadav were not a part of the trial although they were present in the Local Bodies Bhawan at the time. Additional secretary (local government), Hargunjit Kaur, was present only to prepare the minutes of the meeting. Sidhu said he wanted to hear what the suspended officials had to say.
P K Goel, claimed he had followed the rules laid down by Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB) in December 2015 and the allotment was done through Deputy Commissioner’s committee and vetted by local bodies bosses in Chandigarh. He said tenders were floated 14 times but no contractor was willing to get the project. He said he had saved Rs 10.70 crore of the state exchequer and government’s guidelines were followed.
Dharam Singh, Pawan Sharma and Kulwinder Singh also claimed that they followed the laid down procedure and the works were not executed by MC but the district urban infrastructure committees. MLA Ashu, however, did not seem to agree. He said, “Municipal Corporation is an agency. The MPLAD fund is also spent through the MCs but it does not mean the local body would not follow the rules.”
Ashu further said a municipal commissioner was not authorised to allot works above Rs 25,000 without a resolution by MC house and approval by Fand CC. When Pawan Sharma said, “We are government employees. We execute the orders of the government,” Ashu immediately asked him to give it in writing that these were the former Deputy Chief Minister’s orders.
While providing a copy of MC rules to the media, Sidhu repeated himself several times when he said every tender has to be transparent and ensure competitiveness so that the government gets best rates for the execution of the project. He quoted Supreme Court guidelines on tenders stating that only in case of calamity, emergency, on in case of only one supplier across the country, should be the cause for any agency to allot tender on a single bid.
“But these are the circumstances where more than 50 per cent tenders have been given on a single bid. Na kahoon se dosti na kahoon se vair, Sidhu maange Punjab di khair,” he said. At the end, Sidhu asked the officials to give it in writing their explanation and he would take further course of action in 15 days. The move to hold such a ‘hearing’ did not go down well with most of the officials in Punjab, who felt the four officials were humiliated, the four officials did not want to speak to the press.
On a question about his verdict after today’s trial, Sidhu said, “I will call you all in some days and let you know. Courts take 10-10 years to give a verdict. I am just asking for 10 days.”