Observing that the Assam Police CID’s probe into the Louis Berger bribery case was progressing at a “snail’s pace” and in a “partisan manner”, the Gauhati High Court has directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to take over the case. The case of alleged bribery came to light when one Bhaben Handique lodged an FIR at Dispur police station in 2015, alleging that Louis Berger had paid substantial bribes to some officials to get a
Rs 1,452-crore contract for setting up water supply plants in Guwahati. In August 2015, the state government lodged a similar complaint with Assam Police CID, following which the probe began. But even as the CID began its probe, Handique went to the high court and sought a CBI probe, alleging that the case has not been properly investigated by the Assam Police agency. The high court, in its order issued late Friday evening, said that though the probe moved fast during the first four months, it lagged after that.
“It was incumbent upon the state machinery to ensure proper, effective and unbiased investigation into the allegations made in the first information report. This court totally fails to understand as to why the investigation has been done at such a snail’s pace where prompt and effective action was wholly warranted more so when the allegations involve payment of bribe by the said company to various government officials to the tune of Rs 6 crores approximately to win contract in Guwahati valued at Rs.1452 crores,” the court order said.
The court also said the probe so far was conducted in a partisan manner. “It is crystal clear that the investigating agency has not investigated the case in right earnest and has been conducting the same in a partisan manner,” the order issued by Chief Justice Ajit Singh and Justice Manojit Bhuyan said. Pointing out that the CID was not in a position to “act independently since high-ranking officials are involved in awarding the contract”, it asked the CBI to take over the investigation.
The Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority had in 2010 selected Louis Berger International, a US-based multinational company to manage three major water supply facilities in Guwahati city. Funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency and Asian Development Fund, none of the projects have been completed yet.
Gogoi versus Himanta
Interestingly, while Louis Berger was awarded the contract in 2010 when Tarun Gogoi was the chief minister and Himanta Biswa Sarma was the minister for Guwahati Development, both are now locked in a debate over who actually had a role in awarding the contract. Sarma, who was the most powerful minister in Gogoi’s Congress government, is now equally powerful in Sonowal’s BJP-led government.
On Sunday, Gogoi in a tweet said, “I welcome the move of the Honble Guwahati HC into Louis Berger case to CBI & hope it will monitor to unearth the scam.” Two hours later, Sarma, who holds several important portfolios in the current government, in a tweet replied, “Sir, you always forget that it was you who approved that project, not me.”
On August 28, Gogoi in a press conference in Guwahati demanded a CBI inquiry into the alleged involvement of Sarma in the Louis Berger bribery scandal. Interestingly, the BJP Parliamentary Board had, in July 2015, reportedly brought out a booklet titled ‘Water Supply Scam 2010 in Goa and Guwahati’ in which it had pointed fingers at Sarma, who was then in the Congress.