Kickbacks in laptop procurement? Allegations put both BJP and Congress governments in the dock

The complainant accused the ministers and officials of receiving a kickback to the tune of ₹25 crore in the procurement of laptops, which was meant for the labourers’ children.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Jun 12, 2024 | 10:00 AM Updated Jun 12, 2024 | 10:00 AM

Karnataka Legislative Council voting

A social worker has filed a complaint before the Karnataka Lokayukta, accusing both the previous BJP government and the current Congress government of allegedly taking kickbacks in the procurement of 7,000 laptops in the Department of Labour.

The complainant has not only levelled corruption allegations against the Department of Labour’s Karnataka Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board (KBOCWWB) but also accused it of violating the Karnataka Tender Transparency Act-2000 while carrying out the tender process.

According to the complainant, “The KBOCWWB has procured each laptop at a cost of ₹71,046 from the supplier. The procured cost of each laptop is almost double compared to the open market and e-commerce platforms for the given specifications of the electronic device.”

While most of the tender process was finished during the previous BJP government, the remaining process was finished and worker order was issued after the Congress government came to power in the state.

The complainant accused the ministers and officials of receiving a kickback to the tune of ₹25 crore in the procurement of laptops, which was meant for the labourers’ children.

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Allegations of misappropriation of funds

Hanumantharaya Pujari, a social worker and a resident of Kalaburagi district, registered the complaint against the Department of Labour’s Principal Secretary and the Secretary of KBOCWWB  on the misappropriation of funds in the labour welfare board on 6 June.

In the complaint, Hanumantharaya alleged, “Laptop scheme has been implemented by the Construction Workers Welfare Board in order to increase the technical education skill level of the children of the construction workers”.

He continued, “Tender for the laptop procurement was called during the previous government in March 2023. In the tender, the officials fixed a meager time period and created a favourable environment for those who wanted it”.

“The Karnataka Tender Transparency Act-2000 requires a “tender period” of at least 60 days for tender value above ₹2 crore. However, the tender called by the officials was for a short period of mere 10 days. The authorities have clearly violated the rules of KTTP Act 2000″, alleged the social worker.

Blaming the BJP government, he alleged, “During the last assembly elections, the previous government (BJP) called for tenders in haste and applications from bidders for the construction workers welfare board. The process for the technical bidding was finished before the assembly elections”.

“While the authorities were gearing up for the financial bid, the dates for the Karnataka assembly polls were announced, resulting in complete halt of the remaining tender process. Even after the Congress government came to power, it gave the nod to resume the remaining tender process without conducting any proper review,” he said.

“Then a tender selection meeting was held in the welfare board on 24 July, 2023. In the meeting, the “Nine Rich Company” was selected as the successful bidder. Accordingly, the welfare board issued a supply order for 7,000 laptops on 17 August, 2023,” detailed Hanumantharaya.

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Demand for Lokayukta probe into ‘kickback scam’ 

Highlighting the financial aspects of the laptop procurement, he said, “The welfare board has invited division wise tender for the procurement of 1400 laptops for each division. The tender amount was fixed at ₹ 9.96 crore”.

“Apart from that, there has been a huge gambit in the amount fixed for the tender. The tender amount should have been fixed after observing and verifying the market rates. However, there has been a huge scam by directly buying laptops for double the market price,” Hanumantharaya alleged.

He continued, “The objective of the KTTP act is to ensure that goods and services are procured at competitive rates and of good quality. In the laptop purchase tender scam, the Welfare Board has purchased each laptop at a price of ₹71,046 from the bidder”.

“Surprisingly, the price of a laptop with board-fixed specifications is between ₹35,000 and ₹38,000 in the open market and online”, pointed out the social worker.

He further said, “In spite of this, the KTTP rules were thrown into the air and the highest price was fixed. The welfare board released ₹49.73 crore to “Nine Rich Organization” for the procurement of 7,000 laptops”.

“This clearly shows that a “kickback scam” has taken place in the procurement of laptops. The market price is ₹36,046 for a laptop. The authorities have paid an excess sum of ₹24.50 crore to the company”, alleged Hanumantharaya.

He also demanded an investigation by Lokayukta into the alleged scam.

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‘Both BJP and Congress leaders involved in scam’

Hanumantharaya accused both the BJP and the Congress for the alleged scam.

“It is the BJP government that hastily issued a tender to procure 7,000 laptops just before the assembly polls. By the time the elections were declared, the bidder was fixed and the technical process was complete, he told South First.

“The remaining tender process resumed after the assembly polls. The new Congress government could have stopped this huge irregularity but they also did not. It appears that the leaders from both the political parties and officials are involved in receiving kickback”, accused the social worker.

He continued, “When inquired with multiple laptop and computer distributors, they claimed that the specifications mentioned by the welfare board for the said laptop will cost anywhere around ₹36,000 and ₹38,000. It is even available at a similar price in the online market as well”.

“This clearly shows that irregularities have occured in the procurement of laptops. The previous BJP government was accused of taking 40 percent commission. In this, they have swindled around 50 percent. I also brought this to the attention of the principal secretary of the labour department and other officials, but it went in vain”, said Hanumantharaya.

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‘Will look into the allegations’

The higher officials at the Department of Labour claimed that they are aware of the allegations and that they would look into the matter.

Department of Labour’s Principal Secretary Mohammad Mohsin told South First: “I am aware of the allegations. The laptops were purchased during the previous government. We will look into the allegations made against the labour welfare board.”

On anonymity, an official of KBOCWWB told South First: “The tender process was almost completed during the BJP government. The bidder will be finalized only after the evaluation, technical qualification and other requirements”.

“Even the reference rate will be fixed for the laptop. The new government has only issued work orders. None of the officials in the welfare board have received any kind of notice from the lokayukta on the matter”, added the official.

However, he did not respond to the queries pertaining to the violation of KTTP act, citing that it was conducted by officials who previous held the concerned posts.

(Edited by Shauqueen Mizaj)