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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Is Delhi’s CNG ‘scam’ probe in the fitness of things?

Shalini Narayan tells the story of the controversy that this week exploded into a fresh confrontation between the AAP government and LG Najeeb Jung .

Written by Shalini Narayan | New Delhi |
June 11, 2015 4:21:59 am
CNG fitness scam, fitness scam, Delhi fitness scam, Delhi government, public transport vehicles, public transport fitness scam, CNG ‘scam’ probe, Delhi Transport Department, AAP government, Mukul Mudgal committee, indian express explained, ie explained, ESP India Pvt Ltd In 2002, the Delhi government, following a Supreme Court order, ordered fitness tests on public transport vehicles using CNG, and hired ESP USA as consultant.

What is the so-called CNG fitness scam?
In 2002, the Delhi government, following a Supreme Court order, ordered fitness tests on public transport vehicles using CNG, and hired ESP USA as consultant. However, another firm, “ESP India Pvt Ltd”, was awarded the tender, allegedly with the collusion of officials and intention to steal funds, even before the company had been registered. File notings mentioned only “ESP”. According to the Anti Corruption Branch (ACB), the company conducted two fitness tests and charged for a third, which was neither required nor conducted. The Rs 1,600 collected for each test was pocketed by the alleged scamsters, who skimmed off an estimated Rs 100 crore.

When did all this come to light?
In 2012, RTI activist Vivek Garg approached the ACB with documents he had procured under the Act. The ACB registered a case and began investigations. The director of ESP USA in India, Nitin Manawat, and three others were arrested for allegedly creating the fake “ESP India” company. Senior Delhi Transport Department officials, including M A Usmani, V K Gupta and Ashok Gupta, too were arrested subsequently. Usmani’s interrogation threw up names of senior IAS and DANICS officers and central government ministers. Eleven people were accused in all.

What has the ACB found so far?
That the Rs 100 crore that ESP India Pvt Ltd received was never given to the Delhi government, and was instead siphoned off, and that senior officials had signed tender documents despite the fact that the tender had been given to a different company.

How did the office of the Lieutenant Governor get involved?
In 2013, Usmani claimed he had been “under pressure from senior officials of the government to sign the tender documents”, and the ACB sought sanction from the Directorate of Vigilance to prosecute three officials. However, these Delhi government officials submitted three letters to the LG, including one that purportedly authorised giving the tender to “ESP”. In August 2013, the LG said no case was made out, and denied the ACB sanction for prosecution. After the ACB asked for a re-consideration, the LG constituted a two-member committee under Justice (retd) Mukul Mudgal, and including retired IAS officer Ramesh Chandra, to examine the case.

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What did the Mudgal committee find?
In its report dated June 10, 2014, the committee said the Delhi government had overlooked the manner in which the name of the consultant company had “metamorphosed” into another, rapped the “lackadaisical manner” in which the change was handled, but indicted no government functionary. The committee noted there were “discrepancies in terms of how the name of the company had changed”, and that this had passed through various departments of the Delhi government including Transport, Finance, Law and Planning “undetected”. However, it said that the “omission was not mala fide but was inadvertent in nature”.

How did CBI come in?
After the LG’s August 2013 order, a lawyer, Subodh Jain, approached CBI, which sought documents from the ACB and carried out a preliminary enquiry. Subsequent to the submission of the Mudgal committee report, the CBI submitted its own report in September 2014 to the Directorate of Vigilance, stating that the three letters on the basis of which the LG had acted were “doubtful” — none of these letters had ever been mentioned either by the accused, nor had they surfaced during the trial. The CBI recommended that the three officials be examined under IPC Sec 218 (public servant lying to protect someone). On Wednesday, a CBI spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.

What has the AAP government done?
Before coming to power, the AAP had, in December 2014, raised questions over the “LG’s involvement in the case”, pointing out that no action had been taken despite senior officials having been named by the CBI in its probe. With the CBI and ACB, both independent probe agencies, having found prima facie evidence to proceed, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia on Tuesday issued formal orders to “re-examine the case”.

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