Vivek Gupta & Gagandeep singh Dhillon
The travel agency which the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation chose for organising the controversial ‘study tour’ for members and officials in September without inviting tenders is owned by none other than the brother-in-law and the nephew of BJP councillor Arun Sood, who is Leader of Opposition in the House, it is learnt.
Arun himself was part of the nine-day tour in which 19 members and six officials had travelled to Chennai, Kolkata and the Andaman and Nicobar islands, ostensibly to study development projects. He had taken family members along, as had many others, virtually turning it into a fun trip.
Councillors of BJP, Congress, Akali Dal and nominated members had joined the tour. Only BSP members did not go.
Konasth e-services Limited, which organised the tour under its subsidiary Journey Cook, is based in Sector 8, Panchkula, and run by Arun’s brother-in-law Sanjeev Sood and nephew Sahil Vaid. According to Sahil’s Facebook page, he is the director of the company.
Sources said the agency was selected without tendering and Rs 27.8 lakh was sanctioned for the trip. The agency was paid around Rs 20 lakh in advance while around Rs 1.5 lakh was handed over to the officials in the tour party. More than two months later, the agency has not submitted the bills, said chief accounts officer Desh Raj Chaudhary.
BJP councillor Satinder Singh, who has been very vocal in criticising the trip, said that tenders should be invited before giving any contract worth more than Rs 5 lakh, which was not done in this case. He said there were several other violations too.
Asked how the agency was selected, Joint Commissioner Rajiv Gupta, who was part of the tour, said that he did not know, as the selection was done by executive engineer Sham Lal, who could not be reached for comment.
Commissioner V P Singh, too, could not explain how the agency was selected. “Everything was finalised with the consent of the mayor and the councillors. We will examine the matter once the bills are submitted by the agency and will ensure that the MC does not bear any extra expenses on account of the councillors’ family members,” he said.
Sanjeev claimed they had submitted “all bills’’ and those who took along family members had paid in cash or by cheque after the trip. Asked about how his agency was selected and his relationship with Arun, Sanjeev hung up.
But Sahil said, “The firm was selected on merit. Joint Commissioner Rajiv Gupta invited quotations from several firms and because we quoted the lowest price, we were selected. You can talk to the Joint Commissioner for further details.”
Arun denied any role in the selection of the agency. He said no one had ever raised any finger on his integrity and credibility. “As far as taking along my family members is concerned, I paid Rs 1.2 lakh by cheque to the agency, for which I have evidence,” he said.
The study tour was the most expensive ever undertaken by the municipal corporation. After the tour, photos of members, officials and their relatives and family members — there were 14 of them — frolicking in the sea or otherwise having fun appeared in newspapers.
Mayor H C Kalyan has repeatedly said a report on the tour would be placed before the House, but this has not been done so far, although three meetings of the House have since been held.
My job was to take permission for the tour, then I left it to councillors, officials: Mayor
Washing his hands of the matter, Mayor H C Kalyan said on Friday that it was not his job to ensure that due procedure was followed in selecting the travel agency and organising the tour, as this was the responsibility of officials.
“My job was to take permission for the tour from the administration. After that, I left it to the councillors and officials,” said the mayor, when asked about the selection of a travel agency owned by relatives of the Leader of Opposition without inviting tenders.
Kalyan, who had also gone on the tour, said it was wrong if the tendering process was not followed and the matter needed to be investigated.
“MC officials should have ensured that proper procedure was followed while organising the study tour and e-tendering should have been done,” he said.
On the question of councillors taking their family members and relatives along, he said that there was nothing wrong in it. Those who took along their family members duly paid for it, he added. ENS