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Corruption allegations dogged the previous government headed by the AIADMK. Arappor Iyakkam had been at the forefront of exposing and campaigning against irregularities during the AIADMK government’s rule, including with regard to Chennai Corporation contracts. Today, the AIADMK government’s ministers and partymen are being investigated on charges of corruption. Here’s Jayaram Venkatesan of Arappor Iyakkam giving his take on the DMK government’s efforts in dealing with corruption.

It may be a bit early to judge this DMK government’s record on corruption but what positive signs do you see?
There has been a big improvement in the tender process in Chennai Corporation. Under the new system, there is no physical point of contact between those who are bidding for contracts and officials. The whole process is online. There is, therefore, very little room for fixing the tender. There is better competition. As a result, we have seen a 10% to 15% reduction in final bid prices of tenders. This is a change. In small tenders, this has happened. In big tenders, there are conditions. And problems remain there.

The second improvement we are seeing is that, in the past, roads used to be repaired without the top surface of the road being removed in a process called milling. The contractor would re-lay the road without milling it but he would pocket the cash. This has stopped. Road levels are not rising now.

In the ration (PDS) department, the monopoly has gone. In the past, the tendering system was so fixed that only one firm would get the contracts. On May 5, just before regime change, a tender was given when this company had quoted Rs 145 per kg for dal (lentils) whereas the market rate was Rs 80 to Rs 90. The tender was cancelled by the new government and it was reissued. The same firm, in some 20 days, came back with an offer of some Rs 90 per kg.

We have given evidence and an inquiry is on about what happened in the past.
But, just through proper tendering, some Rs 1,300 crore has been saved in PDS.

Under the new system, there is no physical point of contact between those who are bidding for contracts and officials. The whole process is online. There is, therefore, very little room for fixing the tender. There is better competition. As a result, we have seen a 10% to 15% reduction in final bid prices of tenders. This is a change.

Would you say good governance is happening now?
The key aspect of good governance is responsiveness. If a citizen raises a question, the government has to respond quickly. In Chennai Corporation and in the ration department, they have appointed the right officials who have played a positive role.

Is this the case across the government?
Unfortunately no. We recommend end-to-end e-tenders throughout Tamil Nadu across all government departments which would lead to elimination of any point of contact between contractors and government staff. This requires an amendment to the Tender Transparency Act. We have given our representation to the government including to the finance minister. We hope they enact this amendment.

Right now, there is a physical point of contact. A certain percentage of the contract is to be paid upfront. Documents need to be submitted directly in person, not through e-tender. Box tender is still persisting for instance in Tasmac and PWD. This gives a big opportunity for tender documents of those who are bidding to be tampered with, which could disqualify them. If the system is such that all documents are uploaded online and payment is made online, the tender process can’t be subverted easily.

Only in Chennai Corporation and ration, e-tenders have happened. We want it everywhere.

If you take the power sector and all the financial problems it is facing, there is a direct link to corrupt practices. Tangedco’s losses are to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore every year. Fifty percent of that comes from those large power purchase contract Tangedco signed with some 10 firms. This contract has been declared illegal by various agencies. The government should cancel the contract.

Explain to our readers the huge benefits this can bring about
We estimate that the bid amounts will come down by 20% across the board since better competition will be there. If you look at the state budget, some Rs 50,000 crore to Rs 1 lakh crore is paid for schemes. If Rs 10,000 crore can be saved, that is a tremendous amount accruing to the government and it can be spent better on schemes.

There is this perception whereby some governments are dubbed as corrupt-yet-efficient. You are saying reducing corruption can directly boost efficiency?
Not only that, corruption has an immediate impact on the financial position of the government.

Please explain
If you take the power sector and all the financial problems it is facing, there is a direct link to corrupt practices. Tangedco’s losses are to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore every year. Fifty percent of that comes from those large power purchase contract Tangedco signed with some 10 firms. This contract has been declared illegal by various agencies. The government should cancel the contract. Tangedco is not making any headway in weeding out corruption, which would have a direct bearing on its financial situation. This is yet to happen

You recently raised a conflict of interest issue in the appointment of a TNERC official by the government.
Yes, this official has a direct conflict of interest as he represented one of the 10 large firms against which several charges are being investigated. We have submitted evidence to show that this member neither passes the integrity test nor the conflict-of-interest test. His appointment in January of this year is a blackmark in the current government’s record.


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