THE INVESTIGATION by the CBI and ED into the award of two hotel tenders by the Railways in 2006, under the then Union Rail Minister Lalu Prasad, to Patna-based Sujata Hotels is likely to come up against an unlikely hurdle. All the three members of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation’s Tender Committee at the time — B K Agrawal, Vinod Asthana and Rakesh Gogia — have told The Indian Express that they are unable to recall a single detail related to those tenders.
The three-member committee had processed and green-flagged the bids by Sujata Hotels for the hotels under the scanner — BNR Puri and BNR Ranchi — in December 2006.
Agrawal currently holds a senior position in the Railways, Asthana retired in 2014 and Gogia, the sole non-Railways member on that committee, is currently employed in the private sector.
“I don’t remember anything about the two hotels. It’s been so long,” said Agrawal. Asked if he would be able to refresh his memory if documents related to the tenders were shown to him, Agrawal said, “Even if I see the papers now, it would not be right for me to say that I would remember.” Agrawal, a Railways mechanical service officer, was group general manager (tourism services) of IRCTC in 2006 when he was on the tender committee. Now, he heads the Central Organisation for Modernisation of Workshops in the Railways.
Asthana, a Railways traffic service officer, was the group general manager (operations) of IRCTC in 2006 and went on to become the director of the company before retiring as managing director of Central Railside Warehousing Corporation under the Food Ministry. “So many years have passed, it is difficult for me to remember anything off-hand. There used to be tenders almost every day those days. In any case, I was in catering, and this issue was not related to my division. I was only a part of the tender committee,” said Asthana.
The third member, Gogia, was joint general manager (finance) and company secretary with IRCTC in 2006. In 2008, when questions were first raised about these tenders, Gogia released a signed note to the media, claiming that the process did not flout any rules. “Which note are you talking about? I never issued any note. It was not my job also,” said Gogia. The Indian Express has a copy of the note. “I don’t remember anything (about the tenders) and nothing out of the ordinary happened,” said Gogia, who left IRCTC in 2010.
The CBI recently collected the names of all officials directly involved with the two tenders at IRCTC as part of its investigation. In its FIR registered last month, the agency alleged that RJD chief Prasad, his wife Rabri Devi and son Tejashwi Yadav had received a prime plot of land in Patna in exchange for awarding the two tenders. Last Thursday, the ED registered a money-laundering case related to these tenders against Prasad and his family members.
Documents linked to the two tenders show that Sujata Hotels emerged as the only eligible bidder for the Puri hotel by default as there was no other bidder in the financial round. Records also show that the IRCTC’s three-member tender committee stated the only other bidder in contention, Hotel Keshari of Bhubaneshwar, did not qualify for the financial round as it “did not seem to have a plan” to execute the contract.
For the Ranchi hotel, the tender committee chose Sujata’s bid over Dina Nath Hotels in the financial round. The committee had submitted its reports on the two hotels to the tender accepting authority, the then IRCTC managing director, P K Goyal, on December 23, 2006. It was approved on the same day by Goyal, who has also been named in the CBI FIR.