A Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court (HC) on Wednesday ordered an enquiry into the conduct of AB Gaikwad, chief engineer of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), of meddling in awarding a multi-crore road work tender in the state’s Yavatmal district.

The HC division bench, comprising Justices Sunil Shukre and Avinash Gharote, has directed that the enquiry should be conducted by an officer not below the rank of secretary in National Highways (NH) division of the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) and submit a report to the it within a month.

The court was irked to note that Gaikwad’s interference had resulted in disqualifying an eligible lowest bidder, RK Chavan Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd., and awarding the work to an ineligible entity, M/s. GIPL-BCCPL (JV).

The court cancelled the tender process, which was floated for an improvement of State Highway 317 — stretching from Chargaon in Yavatmal district to the border of neighbouring Chandrapur district – and the bidding exercise’s value was fixed at Rs 47.56 crore.

A notice, inviting bids for the project, was published on June 29, 2019.

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Altogether, three bids were received in response to the notice.

On July 20, 2019, the tender evaluation committee (TEC) declared that one of the bidders was technically disqualified, leaving RK Chavan Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd and M/s. GIPL-BCCPL (JV) in the fray.

On August 1, 2019, the price bids were opened and after it became clear that RK Chavan Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd was the lowest bidder, Sumit Bajoria, a representative of GIPL-BCCPL (JV), created a ruckus and took away the tender evaluation sheet and attendance register, following which the tender process had to be stalled.

Another GIPL-BCCPL (JV) partner returned the documents to the MSRDC authorities the following day.

The judges were annoyed to note that instead of initiating criminal action against Bajoria, the officials extended undue favours to GIPL-BCCPL (JV).

Gaikwad himself allegedly cancelled an experience certificate, which was issued to RK Chavan Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd by an executive engineer of MSRDC.

On the basis of Gaikwad’s letter, RK Chavan Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd’s bid was held ineligible, paving the way for the alleged errant GIPL-BCCPL (JV) to bag the contract.

RK Chavan Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd authorities moved HC, challenging the high-handed action of MSRDC officials.

HC expressed utter displeasure over the episode. “The situation leading to the present petition, is clearly indicative of the callous and casual attitude of the respondents and specifically the five-member TEC constituted for the process,” said the bench.

The court found that the TEC did not apply its mind about the eligibility norms. It also found that no record was maintained that could throw some light on the tender process.

“The process smacks not only of malafide intention, but also of favouritism, indulgence, interference, which compels us to hold that tender exercise is vitiated,” said the bench.

The judges were also annoyed with the manner in which the record of the tender was maintained.

“A perusal of the record reveals a shocking situation,” said HC.

“The original record is a collection of loose papers consisting of various letters, evaluation sheets, communications etc. which is neither arranged date-wise, nor is paginated,” it said.

“The record is a hotchpotch of papers with no coherence and logical sequencing at all, either date-wise or for that matter in any manner whatsoever. Nothing can be ascertained from the original record,” it added.

The court also noted that the record did not disclose as to when the TEC met, how evaluation was conducted and what was considered.

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