PSUs, coop societies used by shady firms to grab major projects like AI Camera, K-FON: Kerala LoP tells HC

 Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan, on Friday said before the Kerala High Court that public sector undertakings and co-operative societies are being used by shady companies to grab major state government projects like AI camera, K-FON and others.

In an additional affidavit “on his zero tolerance towards corruption”, as directed by the High Court, Satheesan claimed that projects are entrusted to public sector undertakings or cooperative societies in order to make inroads into corruption.

He claimed that these public sector undertakings, without expertise and resources, are inviting tenders and entrusting the work to private parties with flexible terms.

“An examination of such orders issued to public sector undertakings and co-operative societies which in turn had entrusted the work to private parties will show the enormous erosion of public funds in which the decision makers became the beneficiaries when the corporate veil is lifted.

“Recent controversies surrounding important state-funded projects, including the A-I camera project, K-FON project, LIFE mission, COVID purchases, etc., show that numerous violations and corrupt practices were employed to steal money from the State coffers,” the affidavit claimed.

Satheesan submitted before the court that in projects such as A-I camera, K-FON or LIFE mission, “the public sector enterprises and cooperative societies were used as masks by shady or shell companies to grab the project”. He also claimed that these PSUs were selected as the implementing agencies either without a formal tender process or through a name-sake tender process.

“While KELTRON was arbitrarily chosen as the implementation agency for the A-I camera project in violation of government orders, the Central PSU Bharat Electronics Limited was given the project in K-FON for exorbitant tender excess in violation of all conventional guidelines and orders relating to tender excess,” the affidavit said.

The Congress leader cited another example of such “abuse” – the Uralungal Labour Contract Co-Operative Society (ULCCS), which he claimed that it receives the majority of government projects “without tender”.

“In connivance with the shell companies, these implementing agencies create extravagant project estimates despite having little to no expertise in the technology involved. The exorbitantly high estimate created for the A-I camera project makes this abundantly clear,” he said.

The Kerala High Court had on June 20 directed the state government, Keltron and several private companies, connected with the installation of artificial intelligence (AI) cameras under the Safe Kerala initiative, to spell out their stand on a plea by two Congress leaders Satheesan and senior leader and MLA, Ramesh Chennithala, for quashing of approval given to the project.

The bench had also directed the two Congress leaders to file an additional affidavit “on their zero tolerance towards corruption”. The court had said that it was seeking the affidavit in order to infuse more transparency in the decision-making process.

The court had listed the matter for further hearing on July 13.

The petitioners have challenged the orders issued by the LDF government with regard to installation and operation of the AI cameras across the state alleging “illegalities, nepotism, favouritism and corruption” in the grant of contract under the project and its implementation.

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They have demanded quashing of the administrative sanction and the comprehensive administrative approval given to the ‘Automated Traffic Enforcement System for Safe Kerala’ project. Their plea has also sought a declaration from the court that SRIT India Pvt. Ltd, which was given the work contract by state-run Keltron, was unqualified to participate in the tender process as they do not have any expertise in traffic signal monitoring and do not satisfy the stipulations in the tender document.

Chennithala and other Congress leaders have been alleging that the Left government had indulged in some irregularities in awarding the tender to SRIT for the setting up of a fully-automated traffic enforcement system.

The Kerala government had in 2020 entered into an agreement with Keltron for the project. In April this year, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had inaugurated the ‘Safe Kerala’ project, which included installation of the AI cameras, envisaged to reduce road accidents and traffic violations in the state.

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