Saturday, October 29, 2011

COVER STORY: Directorate of Shipping Services: Black Hole of Corruption

THE LIGHT OF ANDAMANS - Vol 35 | Issue 17-18 | 28 oct 2011
Directorate of Shipping Services: 
Black Hole of Corruption

Flouting General Finance Rules is a way of life at Directorate of Shipping. With inappropriate purchases amounting to lakhs of rupees, dumping all regulations, with an excuse of uninterrupted service, DSS is sailing on a sinking ship. 

By Zubair Ahmed

The Directorate of Shipping has a disgraceful history of corruption and nepotism since ages. Mired in various corruption charges and many failed experiments with the setup, it has miserably failed in meeting the demands of the commuters too. 
Flouting all the rules of procurement of goods and services mentioned in the GFR, the department has been on a purchasing spree without any reason. Anti-corruption raids are not new to the department. However, they go scot free where it is very easy to convince or confuse quoting the technical aspects. Moreover, in the garb of providing non-stop service, it prefers to procure spares from the local market, whereas, the workshop staff finds it a bit hard to digest.
Recently corruption charges were leveled against DSS officials by a fortnightly and the ant-corruption unit also raided the premises.  Nothing has happened thereafter.
The charges cannot be just brushed off as even after purchases amounting to lakhs of rupees, the presumed results are not visible in the service. Moreover, a few expensive parts procured by the department are unjustifiable. 
The crankshaft of MV Pilobhabi, a vehicle ferry plying between Bambooflat and Chatham, which had resumed service after a long span of maintenance, was found defective and had to be replaced. A purchase order was placed with Momani Diesels, who claims to be an authorized dealer for Kirloskar products. The crankshaft was purchased for a cost of Rs 2362000/-. However, the workshop staff claims that the vendor is not an authorized dealer for Crankshaft (W8V) series, an expensive and precision part. One of the allegations is that the part is available on DGS&D rate at the cost of Rs 18 Lakhs and the department failed to procure it even after placing an order in November 2008. "We cannot wait such a long period, as the services will come to a halt," said Capt Seshasai, Director, DSS. He said that a committee was constituted and decided that to sustain services, parts can be purchased locally. On the other hand, this excuse has been exploited to make purchases from local vendors on exorbitant prices, where it is alleged that the booty is shared among the top echelon. The crankshaft is a proprietary item, for which OEM Guarantee certificate has to be produced which is not done in this case. It is also alleged that the recycled Crankshaft was purchased for the cost of Rs 85000/- from Chennai by the Vendor.
The order was placed on 7th July 2010 and was delivered on 22 June 2011. An inspection committee is in place to check the part and authorize it. The Inspection of the part was also completed on the same day and the amount of Rs 2,74,0150/- by Cheque No. 139984 was issued to the vendor on 6 July 2011. The urgency in completing the Inspection is also being raised by the Workshop staff. When it was opened by the shop staff, it was found to be a used one with defects. The staff objected to fit the same. But, it is learnt that one of the Asst Marine Engineer forced them to fit it. "From the look itself, one can find out whether it was a used one or a new piece, but, how come it was overlooked by the Inspection Committee," a staff told LOA. When asked, Capt Seshasai agreed that the part was a used one and the vendor has been asked to replace it. But, when contacted CJ Anthony, Procurement Officer told LOA that the part was not a recycled one, but defective. He also told that the Inspection Committee only does preliminary inspection and the defect will only be seen when it is fitted. The staff however disagrees and says that when we can easily identify a new one from a used one, how come the committee is incapable? Every proprietary item has a serial number embedded and same mentioned in the OEM certificate. How this aspect was overlooked by the Inspection Committee points to a major racket inside the DSS in connivance with the top echelon. The Procurement Officer also needs to do lot of explaining as how he released part payment to the vendor when the complete purchase order, which included Crankshaft(W4V) and Fresh Water Pump, was for Rs 49,97,677/-
Without the approval of competent authority, making purchase of a proprietary item, the open infringement of GFR rules are the way of life at DSS, where the Director has no power.
Subsequently, on a complaint, Anti-corruption wing raided the premises and were on the verge of filing FIR. In the meantime, there was an attempt to even shift the crankshaft from the workshop to the vendor's shop. It was effectively blocked with the intervention of some staff, who informed the Anti-corruption wing. The Director was not in the station and when he came back, he met the Anti-corruption officials and what conspired at the higher level is a mystery and the issue is pushed under the carpet.
Another allegation is about the purchase of two gearboxes for the vessel Maina, which has been lying dead since long time. The gearboxes procured locally at a cost of Rs 917719/- each was found to be unfit for the vessel. The GFR rule no 137 (i) clearly points out that the specification in terms of quality, type etc., as also quantity of goods to be procured should be clearly spelt out keeping in view the specific needs.." In this case, the need was for a gearbox with ratio of 4:1 and in the purchase order, the ratio mentioned is 3:1. Another wasteful expenditure indeed. But, Capt Seshasai disagreed and said that there are many vessels with DSS and the gearbox can be used in some other boat. How come such mistakes creep in when there is sufficient technical staff. Flouting the GFR on one hand and claiming that senseless purchases involving huge amount is not an issue that can be easily rebuffed. It is once again blamed on tsunami. Capt Seshasai said that most of the documents pertaining to the vessels were lost or destroyed in tsunami. So they had to guess the model no. and procure it. Moreover, it was not certified by Indian Registrar of Shipping (IRS).
Same is the case with the purchase of cylinder heads for engines. About 16 Cylinder Heads were procured, which were also inappropriate and is lying without serving any purpose.
The most blatant instance of corruption is in the purchase of Digital Microwave Frequency Counter, bench instrument procured at a whopping cost of Rs 17,15,117/-. The workshop staff informed LOA that the electronic instrument of APLAB make is a unique item as there is no reference to such an item anywhere on the website of the manufacturer. The costliest Microwave Frequency Counter manufactured by APLAB is approximately Rs 60,000/- There is more than one discrepancy in the purchase order itself. The variation in the store requisition date and the quotation date itself points to foul play. The requisition date is 29 July 2010 whereas the quotation date of the supplier is 14 May 2010. When asked about the variation, I got two different answers from the Director and the Procurement Officer. The Director said that it was an annual rate contract whereas the Procurement Officer told that there is a mistake in the date.
When asked the exorbitant cost of the equipment, C J Anthony, Procurement Officer told LOA that it was an open tender and they had no idea about the cost of the instrument, as it was the first time, this particular equipment was purchased. Whereas the GFR in Rule 137(iv) says that the procuring authority should satisfy itself that the price of the selected offer is reasonable and consistent with the quality required. Procuring such expensive equipment without any market survey shows the vice motive behind it. The Procurement Officer has no idea about the cost of the equipment and accepted the lowest of the two qualifying quotations.
Furthermore, it is learnt that a bill of Rs 3 Lakhs was sent by the Director to the master of a vessel for endorsement for painting of the vessel. The master was shocked to see the bill as no painting work had been carried out on the boat. He was in a dilemma whether to put his initials as he will be in a soup. Finally, the director had his way.
The way the Department officials are draining the exchequer on one hand and empty promises of better service on the other hand, prompt service will always remain a pipedream for the gullible Islanders.

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