The tender (of which TOI has a copy) was floated on the GEM portal after disabling the “Make in India” purchase preference; contrary to what procurement agencies are encouraged to choose. Teachers from the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) shared documents of the price paid for each panel. On the GEM portal, a BenQ panel made in Taiwan is listed as costing Rs 1.3 lakh. However, the DVET has paid Rs 2.2 lakh for each of the 242 BenQ panels that were made in China and not permitted to be listed on the GEM portal. On the GEM portal, suppliers, manufacturers, dealers and vendors selling products and services originating from China and Pakistan are not permitted to register.
DVET director Digambar Dalvi denied any rules were skirted. He said orders were placed after the technical committee scrutinized the documents. “We look at the papers submitted by vendors and then place an order. I don’t know if the vendor told us that it would supply Taiwan-made products and then actually dispatched Chinese machines. I have not received any such report yet.” “There is a committee that looks at the pricing aspect. Plus, there is a delivery cost, transportation, other opex (operating expenses),” added Dalvi.
The interactive panels were purchased as a part of a plan to install smart classrooms in ITIs. The majority of the panels (112) procured are through funds received under Strive, a skills-strengthening project of the World Bank and the government of India. Similar made-in-India LCD panels by companies like Cornea (Rs 92,000), Senses (Rs 1.4 lakh), People Link LCD (Rs 1.06 lakh) and 25 others are all available at Rs 1-1.5 lakh.
Certifications demanded were that of TuV, which meet European standards of quality, design and manufacturing, which most Indian products do not have. But neither did the Chinese BenQ panels that were eventually shipped to the ITIs. When asked why the certification was waived, Anand Lohar, DVET’s inspector of procurement, said, “We have not had the time to visit the ITIs and see what has been sent.”
An ITI teacher said it was apparent that the procurement process was manipulated to favour one product. “Right from the start, this tender was floated in a manner to benefit one company BenQ. In fact, of all the bidders that applied, the four qualified ones all offered LCD panels of the same company,” said the teacher, who accessed the bid documents. The qualified four – Logic Systems, Nashik, Multiplex Technologies, Shri Jaitai Enterprises and Spectrum Services – all offered the same BenQ product.
Procurement rules on the GEM portal and those of the state government mandate that if only one brand or product makes it to the qualified list, to be fair, tender specifications must be altered or re-tendering must be done. However, Lohar, who has been in this job for 12 years, says, “We had no clue that if only one product of one company qualifies in the bid, we have to issue a re-tender.”
A BIS certificate submitted to the state by the vendors (a copy is with ToI) also states that the panels are made in China. “Yet the commercial bid of M/S Logic Systems was opened, raising doubts on whether government officials knew that the country of origin on the GEM portal – Taiwan – did not match the product that would be supplied – from China,” said another teacher.
Also, the process followed by the DVET required a pre-dispatch inspection to be held by a committee. Under that, a team visits the vendor and signs every sealed box to be dispatched before they are sent out. “Every box has a clear mention of the fact that the machines originate from China,” said a faculty member.
When ToI contacted BenQ, it responded saying: “This particular order was executed by our regional stock and sell partner M/S Logic System. The information pertaining to this particular deal is with them.”
The tender was floated in two stages and procurement was done in four batches. The total cost was Rs 7.18 crore. Usually, if the procurement bill crosses Rs 5 crore, it needs clearance from the state secretariat. The teachers allege that the order was broken up into smaller lots to avoid seeking clearance from higher authorities. “We strongly believe that to be the reason for not ordering all the panels under one order,” claimed the teachers, who plan to write to the chief minister seeking an inquiry into the matter.