Envisaged under the Nirbhaya Fund, investigation reveals irregularities in tendering process
More than four years after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Indian Railways and RailTel for the installation of surveillance cameras at 983 stations across the country, the project envisaged under the “Nirbhaya Fund” to enhance safety of women passengers, has derailed.
With no progress in the national project for years and an investigation initiated by the Central Vigilance Commission revealing serious irregularities in the tendering process, the Ministry of Railways has now asked its General Managers to go ahead and install Video Surveillance System (VSS) at the railway stations earmarked for the purpose in their respective zones.
The Nirbhaya Fund was created by the Union government after the brutal gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi in 2012. The dedicated fund was meant for projects specifically designed for the safety and security of women.
As part of the scheme, RailTel was allotted the execution of VSS at 983 railway stations across the country at an estimated cost of ₹500 crore. It was described as one of the largest projects of its kind, involving integration Indian Railway and RailTel systems, with the collaboration of multiple agencies within and outside the railways.
Though tenders were floated for four regions of RailTel in 2016, the project never took off due to alleged irregularities which led to an investigation by the CVC. A detailed enquiry revealed that certain conditions in the tender document were “ambiguous”. Later, over 1,400 queries were received from prospective bidders leading to more ambiguities in the document.
Enquiries also revealed that tender notice was issued and documents uploaded even before the approval of the competent authority. The Tender Committee was not strictly as per the prescribed Schedule of Powers.
“The Tender Committee was found to be working beyond their jurisdiction on certain parameters like testing of some of the items like switches in the laboratory of the firm and that too without covering all parameters prescribed in the tender documents… The overall supervision and control on the process was found to be lacking on the part of the Board level officers,” the System Improvement Report said.
When the technical bids were opened and taken up for scrutiny, the Finance Member of the Tender Committee recorded his dissent note. Even after the recommendations of the committee were changed, the Director (Finance) “recommended discharge of the tender on the ground that the Tender Committee got influenced and guided by the Independent External Monitor’s report.”
According to a top railway official, the zonal railways were also asked to implement the VSS project even though an MoU for the same purpose was signed with RailTel. Some zones like the Central Railway even floated tenders and were on the verge of awarding the contract.
“But it was later decided to ask RailTel to complete the work. It is not just the 983 stations but the installation of surveillance cameras in hundreds of other railway stations and thousands of coaches in premium trains. Only a detailed investigation by an independent agency can reveal why and how the whole project got derailed and at whose intervention,” the official, who preferred not to be quoted, said.
The purpose of setting up surveillance cameras was defeated over the years. There have been dozens of cases of crimes against women, including murders, sexual assaults, attacks, and robbery in railway stations or trains in the last five years. In the Southern Railway division, a techie was murdered in the Nungambakkam railway station and another brutally attacked in the Chetpet railway station of the Chennai Division.
“The Southern Railway could not provide CCTV footage to the investigating agency and the Madras High Court came down heavily on the railway authorities… It was a very embarrassing situation. Despite several reminders to the Railway Board by different zones on expediting this sensitive project, things didn’t take off,” another railway official said. The official added that RailTel did install a few cameras in some places which were a miniscule part of the whole project.
Going by the conditions laid down in the MoU, CCTVs under Nirbhaya Fund should have been commissioned in 250 stations by September 30, 2017, 350 stations by December 31, 2017 and in the remaining stations by March 31, 2018. But none of the targets were met, railway sources said.
With no sign of the high-priority safety project taking off, the Ministry of Railways has asked zonal railways to install surveillance cameras on their own by floating tenders. However, there was no clarity on the programme to install CCTVs in 14,387 coaches of premium trains like Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto Expresses and suburban trains for passenger safety, the sources added.
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