Tender Loving Derrière

CM reviews Tamenglong-Khongshang road, re-tender held
15 July 2016 The Sangai Express

Imphal, July 14 2016: Even as the National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) held re-tender for construction of the Tamenglong-Khongshang road yesterday, Chief Minister O Ibobi held a review meeting about the road construction project today. ...Work order for [this] construction [...] was earlier given to a Ghaziabad-based company, Woodhills, but the bank guarantee furnished by the company was found to be [forged].
Highway to Hell
A stretch of the Imphal-Jiri highway on which the Tamenglong-Khongshang road is also located
Image: Deepak Oinam / E-pao

Here’s a good news but what is it?—that the authority is taking a rare proactive response or that the project will now be given to a more honest or accountable construction firm?

It’s none of the above. The good news is that the Woodhills does ‘exist’ and in its own words, it ‘is a leading construction and infrastructure company providing value-added engineering, construction and service skills’ and based in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. Now, we have to go back a few years to understand why this is a good news.

In early 2010, with much fanfare, the incumbent chief minister Okram Ibobi took part in a key-handing ceremony of a Rs 224-crore clean-up project of the Loktak Lake. The key was handed to the representatives of K Pro Infra Works Private Ltd, a well-chosen and competent firm for the mission. Officially this firm works from a residential apartment in Dwarka, New Delhi. So far so good, but soon it was found that the K Pro Infra Works does not exist at all and it was only then that the address was found out. (A fraud company has found a new home in Manipur but the Ministry Of Corporate Affairs will need to change its regulations to detect such a company in this state.)
To complete the farce, a project director of the Loktak Development Authority Thounaojam Ibobi, while responding to a Tehelka correspondent, replied that information was available on the LDA’s website: Well, the website was in Russian. Simply incredible! Were the web developer and designer drinking too much Absolut while working? [The website is now in Korean, probably because the domain has expired and it is not on account of the LDA’s competency.]

Then, the chief minister, and Diana Potsangbam, who was a press officer of the LDA, dug a hole like a rat and went in to duck questions from the media. Public memory is as deep as that of the Loktak and they knew they can move out when the right time comes. On the other hand, if we talk in terms of crores, the erstwhile Planning Commission had made a Special Plan Assistance of Rs 25 crore to Manipur for the protection of the Loktak circa 2008–09, of which Mr Thounaojam claimed the LDA had then already deposited Rs 16.5 crore to the account of the K Pro Infra Works Pvt Ltd as an advance. 

Till now we are just on the tip of an iceberg. The Loktak scam was a complete rip-off and the rot was too deep to be true. The March 2009 contract was given to a firm established in June 2009. Then five months later, the then chief secretary DS Poonia sought an additional Rs 65 crore for the project and it was sanctioned too. Ironically, all the processes and paperwork were done as per the rules and regulations of the Planning Commission.

The prostitution of bureaucracy and Manipur government is not confined in ‘civil’ areas. Kishalay Bhattacharjee shows in detail in Blood On My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters how a number of military ‘experts’ are waist-deep involved in secret dealings and killings. They share the same foundation on which the institution of corruption is built on; but there might be slight differences because the bureaucrats are not directly involved in killing people like the military establishment is.

The Manipur Government is even more audacious than the army. Picture this. A strong earthquake hit the state on 4 Jan 2016. There were anger and demands for investigation, particularly into damage at the iconic Ima Keithel. After a superintending engineer of the Public Works Department got his ass kicked in the public outrage, the government had to pass the buck to the National Building Construction Corporation Limited (NBCC), a public sector undertaking under the Union Ministry of Urban Development that constructed the redesigned market.

Why, was it because the NBCC is another government firm? Was the NBCC comparatively transparent and does not allow under-the-table deals and the ruling party had been vindictive? Did the government pay the officials of the NBCC to take the blame, which will have no impact whatsoever because it is Manipur?

The rare proactive action of the government regarding the construction of the Tamenglong-Khongshang road is also offering us more questions than answers. Is it a political gimmick with the Assembly Election due in less than seven months? Did the government have an epiphany that it has to show the people that there is a system in place no matter how much it is in tatters? Has some new tender-loving derrières (read contractors) with a bigger, better technology sent its proposal? Bigger, better technology!

Coming back, the Woodhills had got the contract for the construction of 39.5-km road that has a budget of Rs 12 crore but alas, there the contract goes the drain. The explanation that ‘the bank guarantee furnished by the Woodhills was found to be a forged one’ is too reasonable to be true in Manipur.     



Two weeks ago (first week of July 2016), a team of Zeliangrong Youth Front (ZYF) had met the Chief Secretary Oinam Nabakishore on issues relating to the Tamenglong-Khongshang road and the district secretariat In Tamenglong. The delegation, led by ZYF’s president, Titus Kamei, had ridiculed the Manipur Government over its sheer incompetency. Kamei & Co had also criticised that any development fund sanctioned for Tamenglong is mostly meant for siphoning off, which is quite evident from the non-completion and even completely neglected public works including that of the district secretariat.



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