Sunday, March 3, 2024

Whither Saubhagya Scam!


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In a preliminary report on the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojna – SAUBHAGYA scheme launched in 2017, the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) Report had earlier cited excess payment of Rs 149 crore to the contractor. The MDA Government in an attempt to whitewash this scam appointed a retired judge and two retired civil servants to inquire into the scam and as expected they gave the State Government a clean chit. In the latest report of the CAG for the year ending March 2022 it is stated that despite the advisory issued by the Cabinet Secretary, the injudicious decision of the MePDCL for awarding contracts to contractors at their quoted rates resulted in avoidable expenditure of Rupees 156.14 crore. The SAUBHAGYA scheme was meant to ensure universal electrification in urban and rural areas by providing last mile connectivity through financial assistance to the Distribution companies or the State Power Department. SAUBHAGYA envisages providing power to households either through the grid or through stand-alone photo-voltaic systems in remote inaccessible areas where grid connection is not feasible.
The funding pattern for the scheme was in the ratio of 85:15 between the Government of India and Government of Meghalaya. A Letter of Intent for participating in the scheme was submitted to Government of India in February 2018 and a DPR worth Rs 1876.15 crore for electrification of 1,49,826 households was submitted for approval in May 2018. Government of India sanctioned Rs 657.06 crore and released Rs 525.30 crore for electrification of the unelectrified households. Government of Meghalaya provided an additional Rs 148.67 crore between November 2019 and March 2022. The completion date for SAUBHAGYA was fixed for December 2018. It was extended to December 2020 due to delay in awarding of contracts by MePDCL.
The Union Cabinet Secretary in a video conference with the then Chief Secretary had suggested that the tendering for SAUBHAGYA be cancelled and the works be taken up by the Department since the rates quoted by the Turnkey Contractors (TKCs) were above the estimated cost and retendering would lead to delay. But despite assuring the Cabinet Secretary that SAUBHAGYA would be executed by the Department, the MePDCL went ahead with the tender and awarded the contract to the TKCs in February-March 2019. Why did MePDCL extend undue benefits to the contractors thereby resulting in avoidable expenditure? Item-wise audit of prevailing rates found that 86 0f 95 items under Supply component and 44 out of 54 items under “Erection component” were common but the rates quoted by contractors were much higher than the Departmental rates thereby resulting in avoidable expenditure of Rs 156.14 crore. The inquiry report into the SAUBHAGYA scam was never made public and neither was it tabled in the Assembly. But the Opposition then and the Opposition now seem to have forgotten this scam and have moved on. Corruption in Meghalaya is normalised because the guilty are never punished.



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