LESS THAN three months after the CBI filed an FIR naming NBCC CMD A K Mittal among five accused in a case involving the Rs 2,100 crore Pragati Maidan Redevelopment Project, the vigilance department of the state-owned real estate company informed its Board at a meeting on March 8 that the CBI chargesheet failed to establish any charges against Mittal. It said that during investigations, the allegations against Mittal “were not found corroborated”.
Four days later, on March 12, Mittal was given additional charge of Director (Finance) of the company, alongside the post of CMD that he continued to hold even after the CBI FIR and subsequent chargesheet.
The vigilance department’s stand raises questions as Para 2(d) of the Department of Personnel and Training’s (DoPT) circular, dated December 14, 2007, clearly stipulates that clearance should not be given in a case where an FIR has been filed, other than on a private complaint. The CBI FIR of December 22, 2017, in the ITPO’s Pragati Maidan case, was filed after a detailed preliminary enquiry initiated suo motu, and not on a private compliant.
Moreover, other complaints regarding NBCC’s execution of ESIC Medical College and Hospitals projects at Mandi and Bihta (Patna), which are learnt to have been referred to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs by the CVC, were still “under investigation” as late as in February 2018, according to the ministry’s records.
In the ITPO (India Trade Promotion Organisation) redevelopment project, the CBI FIR had alleged that while the contract was awarded to the joint venture of Shapoorji Pallonji and Co (P) Ltd and Shapoorji Pallonji Qatar WLL, Mittal was using his influence to get a part of the project sub-contracted to Mumbai-based Capacite Structures Ltd.
Responding to a question from The Indian Express, NBCC’s spokesperson said, “No substance was found in the allegation against CMD of NBCC, which was communicated to Chief Vigilance Officer, NBCC, by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Accordingly, the CVO, NBCC informed the update on the matter to the Board of the NBCC at its meeting held on March 8, which was subsequently informed to the stock exchanges as per the disclosure norms for a listed entity.”
A spokesperson for Shapoorji Pallonji and Co Ltd told The Indian Express that, “Shapoorji Pallonji has not subcontracted work to Capacite.”
However, experts said the clearance by the NBCC Chief Vigilance Officer does not hold any significance as the case relates to the chairman and managing director of the company, to whom the CVO reports. In fact, a circular issued by NBCC CVO, dated June 17, 2017, states, “The role of the CVO of CPSEs is to report to the chief executive of the CPSEs and also act as an advisor to him. Considering these guidelines, it would be expected that if any complaint having clear vigilance angle is required to be referred to Vigilance Division, the same is routed through the head of organisation.”
Alongside the Pragati Maidan redevelopment case, two other complaints — on ESIC Medical College and Hospitals projects at Mandi and Bihta (Patna) — were still “under investigation” by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs as late as in February 2018. A source confirmed that ‘while seeking vigilance clearance in respect of Anoop Kumar Mittal, CMD, NBCC for the purpose of extension of his tenure, all relevant information available in the ministry was provided to CVC.”
The source said a complaint by a private individual was also referred to the competent authority in November 2017, and “this fact was also informed to the CVC while seeking clearance.”
In the ESIC Mandi project (worth over Rs 600 crore), NBCC was entrusted with the responsibility of project management work relating to the construction of ESIC medical college and hospital. While the contracts for civil work and medical services were awarded to two different entities in July 2009 and June 2013 respectively and were supposed to be completed by July 2011 and March 2014 respectively, they could not be completed till October 2017. NBCC is alleged to have given undue benefit to the contractor and not levied any penalty. It has also been accused of making excess escalation payment to the contractor.
Similarly, in the ESIC Bihta project (worth over Rs 500 crore), it was alleged that Mittal, then CGM and now CMD of NBCC, was involved in irregularities in award of tender for construction of ESIC Medical college.
Responding to specific queries on the ESIC projects, the NBCC spokesperson said, “About certain projects being under investigation in NBCC, these matters are routinely dealt by the Vigilance and other departments and have no specific bearing on the points mentioned above.”
While the ESIC matter has no direct relationship with the redevelopment of the ITPO complex at Pragati Maidan, questions arise on the CVC clearance to Mittal, even as the ESIC cases referred by CVC to the ministry are under investigation.
On the issue of Mittal being given additional charge of Director (Finance), the NBCC spokesperson said, “As per the laid down guidelines by Government of India, in case the position of any Director falls vacant, the charge of the Director automatically vests with Chairman of the CPSE with the approval of administrative ministry. Accordingly, the administrative ministry has entrusted the responsibility of additional charge of Director, Finance, to the CMD vide order dated March 12, 2018 and the same was informed to the stock exchanges.”
Mails with specific questions sent to the CVC, CBI and Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs did not elicit any response.
Meanwhile, Rama Nath Jha, executive director, Transparency India, a non-governmental anti-corruption organisation, said several whistleblowers of NBCC approached them and alleged largescale irregularities by Mittal. He said the complaints, supported by documents, alleged irregularities at NBCC including in ESIC projects, manipulation in tendering process of the ESIC work, including stage-managing award of tender, involvement of pseudo party in a joint venture, payment of escalation cost in violation of legal provisions, not encashing performance guarantee etc.
“We forwarded complaint in original to CVO, ministry and other agencies of government, including CBI… On March 22, 2018, Transparency International India wrote a letter to Nripendra Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, requesting immediate intervention and… proper due diligence in the extension of Anoop K Mittal as CMD (NBCC),” said Jha.