Supreme Court has found severe financial holes in NDA government’s scheme to construct permanent housing facilities for the urban poor under the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM).
Giving the government a piece of its mind, a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit said, “It is a big scam. Your (Centre’s) affidavit tells us everything. Where has the money gone. Affidavit shows us that no construction was done in Maharashtra. How was the Rs 170 crore granted to it utilized?”
In the last financial year, Centre had released Rs. 1,078 crore to states for constructing housing facilities for over 9 lakh urban homeless people. However, only a 208 houses were built across the country.
Funds granted to all the states were ‘utilized’ only by 14 states while no altering in the urbanscape was seen in the remaining 11 states and Union Territories. UP constructed 37 houses for Rs. 180 crore, while Maharashtra could not manage a single wall from the Rs. 170 crore it was given.
The funds released for a urban poor development scheme under NULM, in 790 cities were aimed at constructing permanent, all-weather houses for the homeless urban population.
The Centre had earlier said that executive committees have been set up in states and Union Territories and that the government would monitor the progress of the project. States and UTs were supposed to give monthly reports too.
However Centre’s enthusiasm and States’ sincerity are conspicuous by their presence on the ground, while some 10 lakh urban people continue their lives on roads, footpaths and under flyovers.
The apex body has asked the Ministry of Urban Development to submit a financial statement within two weeks. The ministry was also charged a fine of Rs. 10,000.
Instead of saving public money, the Government e-Marketplace(GeM), the one stop portal to facilitate online procurement of common user goods and services required by government departments and PSUs, seems to be working at cross-purposes.
For instance, sugar testing kits which are easily available online for less than Rs 1,500 per unit are purchased through the GeM for more than Rs 4,100, at a price almost three times higher than the market rate.
With such gross discrepancies in pricing of goods, the procurement of sugar testing kits has snowballed into a major scam in Himachal Pradesh, where three senior officials have been placed under suspension.
The three officials, part of a purchase committee of the Himachal Pradesh Ayurveda Department, had placed a bulk online order for sugar testing kits on GeM in March 2019. The officials had selected the Accu-chek Glucometer manufactured by multinational company Roche to test blood sugar levels in patients.
The Accu-chek machine, priced at Rs 1,599 per unit, is presently available for a discounted price at Amazon for Rs 1,340 and at Flipkart for Rs 1,304. However, the Himachal Pradesh government purchased the same machine from the government’s GeM portal at an exorbitant price of Rs 4,100. The entire order placed by the HP government (till March 2019) was for 700 machines.
Talking to IANS, Director of the HP Ayurveda Department Sanjeev Bhatnagar said that three top officials, including a Deputy Director, have been placed under suspension for purchasing the machines at a very high price.
“Even if they purchased the machines from a government agency (GeM), they should have surveyed the market. The machine is available for less than Rs 1,500 in the open market. Therefore, I have given a report to the government in this connection,” he said.
Refusing to share further information, Bhatnagar, an IAS officer of HP cadre, said that he cannot comment on the role of GeM. However, sources in the know of things said that a letter from the state government has been sent to the Controller of Stores, Department of Industries (Government of India), to take up the matter with GeM authorities.
The sources said that besides sugar testing kits, serious pricing discrepancies have been found in bulk purchase of thermometers by the Himachal government. The specific quality thermometer which should have been priced at Rs 2,600 was quoted by the government e-commerce portal at Rs 3,000.
Sources said that in its letter sent to the Controller of Stores, the HP government has clarified that “the supplier (of Accu-chek Glucometer) has quoted the rates more than the MRP on the GeM portal which is a gross violation of terms and condition of Gem which prescribe a mandatory discount of 10 per cent on the MRP of every product.”
In the letter, the HP government has also requested the Controller of Stores to debar the seller from GeM and refund the money against the price bid mentioned on the GeM portal.
The much-hyped GeM portal was set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his first tenure to facilitate online procurement of goods and services by government departments, organisation and public sector undertakings. The aim of GeM was to enhance transparency and fair price in procurements done by the government departments. (IANS)