BharatNet, is a central government project to connect all village panchayats in the country with scalable bandwidth using Optical Fibre Cable (OFC). In Tamil Nadu, the project was planned to be implemented through state-led model by a special purpose vehicle TANFINET.
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry's Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) said in a communication to Tamil Nadu's Chief Secretary, Secretary of Information Technology, and TANFINET Managing Director on Friday to scrap the tender.
The letter has also been sent to the Secretary, Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
"The DoT, as the Nodal Ministry, is requested to direct TANFINET, Chennai, for corrective action to be taken regarding immediate cancellation of the tenders and re-tender with changed/non-restrictive qualification criteria," DIPPT said.
In a statement issued here, Arappor Iyakkam Convener Jayaram Venkatesan said that after hearing its complaint regarding illegalities in the tenders through videoconference on June 23, the DPIIT passed orders to scrap all the four BharatNet tender packages and float it afresh with non-restrictive qualification criteria.
"This vindicates Arappor Iyakkam's complaint of massive irregularity and illegality in the BharatNet Tenders. The efforts has prevented a major corruption from happening and has ensured that crores of public money is saved," Venkatesan said.
Reacting to the development, DMK President M.K. Stalin said Chief Minister K Palaniswami has to explain on the action to be taken against officials concerned for issuing the "irregular tender" and the vigilance officials who had said "there is no prima facie case".
Arappor Iyakkam said it had earlier filed complaint about the massive changes in BharatNet tenders to favour specific companies for all four packages --(NIT/TANFINET/001/PACKAGE-A with tender value of Rs 350 crore; NIT/TANFINET/001/PACKAGE-B with tender value of Rs 550 crore; NIT/TANFINET/001/PACKAGE-C with tender value of Rs 550 crore; and NIT/TANFINET/001/PACKAGE-D with tender value of Rs 500 crore) to the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary, DoT Secretary, Central Vigilance Commission, Competition Commission of India, and DPIIT.
"The DPIIT had stayed the tender opening and finalisation pending disposal of our grievance," Venkatesan said.
The DPIIT had called a videoconference on May 23, 2020 to discuss the allegations. There was also one other prospective bidder who had also complained about the restrictive conditions, Arappor Iyakkam said.
At the videoconference meeting, Arappor Iyakkam made a detailed presentation on how tender conditions were massively changed on April 15, 2020 in violation of the CVC guidelines well as of DPIIT's 'Make in India' order of 2017.
The NGO had alleged arbitrary and malafide changes of three times increase of turnover and experience criteria and also the introduction of proof of concept to bring subjectivity and discretion in tender, changing router conditions to suit certain specific companies and so on.
At the videoconference meeting, Venkatesan said, officials from Tamil Nadu were not able to justify the changes in the tender conditions during their initial presentation and also when given another opportunity.