A committee appointed to probe alleged irregularities in what came to be known as the ‘CNG fitness scam’ — in which the firm which was awarded the work for a vehicle-fitness project “metamorphosed” into another that eventually executed the project — has found that the ommission went undetected because of an inadvertent oversight on the part of the Delhi government.
No government official was indicted by the two-member committee, appointed by the Lt-Governor. In its report dated June 10, 2014, the committee said while there were discrepancies in how the firm M/S ESP Inc USA — which was originally awarded the contract to operate and maintain inspection and certification (I&C) lanes — “metamorphosed” into M/S ESP India Pvt Ltd and passed through various government departments — including Transport, Finance, Law and Planning — “undetected”, the omission “was not malafide but was inadvertent in nature”.
The committee — comprising Justice Mukul Mudgal (retired Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court) and Ramesh Chandra (retired IAS officer) — has instead suggested that although the change in the names of the companies “required a degree of diligence in noticing the change…”, “more care should have been taken before the vetting and ultimate signing of the agreement by the concerned departments”.
The committee was appointed by the Lt-Governor on October 10, 2013, to inquire into allegations regarding collection of fees by M/S ESP India Pvt Ltd without conducting Loaded Mode Emission (LME) test and alleged omission on the part of Transport officials. The committee’s terms of reference for the inquiry included — ascertaining the total amount actually collected from vehicle owners for LME test, whether such tests were actually conducted, ascertaining the liability of the company for alleged omission and commission, asses the role of Transport department officials, if any, in collection of fees and fix responsibility on erring officials, if any.
The report states that receipts for the tests conducted were produced before the committee, which demonstrated that the amount was collected by ESP India only for the two tests i.e., Automated I&C tests and TPTI tests and that no amount was separately/specifically collected for the LME test.
“As it has been established that no amount was charged for LME test, there is no question of recovery of any such alleged money said to have been collected in the name of LME test,” the report states. Under the Motor Vehicles Act and Delhi Motor Vehicles Rules, all commercial vehicles in Delhi need to undergo annual inspection and certification by a competent authority, in line with Supreme Court orders to check pollution.
Accordingly, the Transport department sought assistance of the Automative Research Association of India (ARAI) in Pune, an NGO funded by the ministry. ARAI appointed M/S ESP Inc, USA, as the project consultant. However, although the sanctions and the Cabinet notes were seen by various government departments, no one noticed the difference between M/S ESP Inc USA and M/S India Pvt Ltd in the agreement which was finalised.