Days before the Maharashtra Assembly polls, the state Home department, led by the then Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, issued an order allotting work of digitisation of Mumbai police’s official records to a private company owned by the son and wife of Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjay Barve.
According to official documents accessed by The Indian Express, the department, informed Barve’s office on October 7, 2019 that the proposal to allot the digitisation work to CrispQ Information Technologies Pvt Ltd (CITPL) for five years had been accorded the government’s approval. CrispQ had offered its services pro bono. The letter further directed the Police Commissioner’s office to finalise the number of units and files that could be covered under the work.
Police officials confirmed the government’s communication had been processed, but said the project had not been initiated owing to “technical issues”.
CrispQ Information Technologies was set up on December 10, 2014 by Sanjay Barve’s wife Sharmila Barve and their son Sumukh Barve, who hold 10 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively, in the company.
When contacted, Mumbai Commissioner of Police Sanjay Barve told The Indian Express the company had offered its services pro bono. “The software being offered is free and it can be used by the Mumbai police for its benefit. There is no question of any financial gains,” he said.
However, arbitrariness in the way the project has been handed over to a private player has raised concerns in the bureaucracy. Neither did the government e-tender the project nor call for proposals from multiple players, said a bureaucrat, who did not wish to be named. “Giving a sensitive government project of such size takes a new company to a different league, and helps it while bidding for projects in the future. There is a potential conflict of interest,” the bureaucrat said. Another retired police officer, who too did not wish to be named, said handing over a project of this nature also raises issues of confidentiality.
CrispQ is engaged in the business of developing software products including web, mobile and desktop applications; technology for efficient manipulation of big data; SaaS models among other things. The company’s registered office is at Marine Lines in South Mumbai. According to company records, it commenced business only in 2018-19. For fiscal 2019, the company reported a profit of Rs 4.53 lakh on total revenues of Rs 10.56 lakh.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show CrispQ first approached the government with the proposal on September 30, 2019. The model code of conduct for the Assembly polls, held on October 24, had come into force on September 21. The company’s letter, directly submitted to Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Sanjay Kumar, offered to provide a paperless office system through a software called Notesheet Plus on a pro bono basis to the Mumbai Police. A copy of the letter was also marked to the Chief Minister’s office.
The letter, which bears Sumukh’s signature, states, “We’re pleased to offer our platform – Notesheet Plus – to Mumbai Police on pro bono basis for a period of five years for up to 100 office units, 10k members across office units, 50K files, and upload space of 5 terabyte… In case additional quota are required, we’d be happy to consider increase in these quotas also on a pro bono basis.”
Notesheet Plus, the letter said, was a digital paperless cloud-based web application, designed keeping in mind the diverse needs of government departments, offices, and undertakings. “It saves paper, requires no storage space, and eliminates courier and delivery delays, with inward and outward registers inbuilt in the system,” it said.
Within the next seven days, the department approved the proposal. Since the project involved carrying out work free of cost, officials confirmed that approval from the state’s finance department or the Chief Minister’s office was neither required nor sought. The department later issued an official communication to Barve’s office asking him to finalise the resource quota (number of units, files, etc) that could be covered under the work in consultation with the company based on the requirement of various police units.
Mumbai Police officials said the software would have allowed the digitising of all police records, complaints and service records of officers. The total strength of the Mumbai Police is around 50,000 employees.
The decision to digitise was taken after consultants PriceWaterhouse Coopers advised Mumbai police to go paperless to speed up the movement of files within the department and increase efficiency.
Barve, who retires February 29, said CrispQ approached the government directly. When asked if the software had been tested earlier and was suitable for the needs of a large force like the Mumbai Police, Barve said, “Similar services are being provided in the US as well. CrispQ has been set up to provide services for the Indian market. There is no violation of service rules as the company was not getting any pecuniary benefit.”
When contacted, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Sanjay Kumar, said, “The proposal was sanctioned on a pro bono basis. It has no cost implications. We get several such letters from companies offering to take up projects under the corporate social responsibility.” He said he was unaware the company belonged to Barve’s son and wife.
Former Chief Minister Fadnavis said the proposal was totally pro-bono and had gone through a proper channel. “So far as the timing (of the proposal) is concerned, I don’t have knowledge of it,” he said.
CrispQ Information’s Director Sumukh Barve said there was no monetary transaction whatsoever. “The offered system has not been implemented yet due to technical reasons. However, once the technical issues are resolved, the system can be implemented pro bono, as per the customised needs of the user,” he said.
According to the records, the company had on August 12, 2019 passed a resolution to increase its share capital to Rs 1 crore from Rs 1 lakh. The records show that in September 2019, the company passed a resolution to raise up to Rs 25 crore through bond/ debentures, preference shares and private placement of its shares.
(With inputs from Khushboo Narayan)
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