There are disturbing reports now that a New Jersey-based firm of US consultants paid bribes to government functiories in Assam and Goa to get jobs as consultants to water supply projects. On Monday, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi ordered an inquiry into the allegations of bribery. He stated in a press release that he had asked additiol Chief Secretary Subhas Chandra Das to probe the alleged scam and submit the report early. He said that if any prima-facie evidence was found, the State government would refer the case to the CBI.
It will be recalled that the Japanese Intertiol Cooperation Agency had agreed to fund a water supply scheme for the south and central parts of Guwahati, and that work on the project had got started in 2010. The expected date of commissioning of the project is November 2016. Apart from Louis Berger Intertiol Inc., a New Jersey-based construction magement company, Nihon Psuido, a Japanese firm, and Shah Technical Consultants were engaged as the consultants for the south-central Guwahati water supply project. We are at a loss to understand why two overseas consultants in addition to an Indian consultant were needed for a relatively simple and uncomplicated water supply project. In any case, the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) has made it clear that it had nothing to do with the selection of consultants for the project and that this was done by the Guwahati Development Department (GDD) headed at that point of time by former GDD Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma with Ashish Bhutani, IAS as Secretary. The origil grant for the scheme was around Rs 1,500 crore, but the amount was later increased due to the devaluation of the rupee.
A project of Rs 1,500 crore would be regarded as a small one for Assam, considering the huge amounts of money spent on other major projects as also the amounts of Central grants that have been uccounted for or embezzled. The last 14 years of Congress rule in Assam have outstripped all previous records of corruption and embezzlement or diversion of public money—activities that are referred to as ‘loot’ in simpler language. As such, had the bribe been offered by an Indian firm of consultants and gladly accepted, it would have been regarded as a routine aspect of sleaze that no one really loses any sleep over. One could have been absolutely sure that no probe would have been ordered. The problem arises because the bribes were paid by an American company and because the matter has gone to court in the United States. The US Justice Department said last week that Louis Berger would pay $17.1 million crimil pelty to resolve charges that it paid bribes to win government contracts in India, Indonesia, Vietm and Kuwait between 1998 and 2010. The US court documents revealed that the firm and several consortium partners paid $976,639 (Rs 6.1 crore) for two water development projects in Goa and Guwahati. The situation is nowhere near as simple as it might have been if the bribe had been paid by an Indian firm to the same officers who received the bribes from Louis Berger. The matter would have been hushed up in no time. It is unlikely to be quite as simple now. As the case in the US court develops, the mes of the Indian recipients of the bribe are bound to come to light. And there is little that the Assam government can do to prevent the mes from being published. And when this happens, there is little that the State government can do not to punish the recipients of the bribe without losing face in the world community. That is perhaps the best bit of poetic justice that the people of Assam may be witness to in a long time.