The RJD-JD(U) state government in Bihar has renewed the contract to run emergency ambulances across the state to a company owned by relatives of an MP of the ruling JD(U) for another five years.
This is despite the Patna High Court's remarks and a series of audits flagging irregularities.
The contract also includes a clause that allows for a three-year extension.
Allegations of "document leaks" and "tweaks" have been made, but the government has ignored them. The Indian Express has reported the story.
Patna-based Pashupatinath Distributors Private Limited (PDPL), run by relatives of Jahanabad MP Chandeshwar Prasad Chandravanshi, was awarded the Rs 1,600-crore contract on 31 May to run a fleet of 2,125 ambulances as part of the national Dial 102 Emergency service.
The ambulances transport critical patients, pregnant women, and infants to the nearest government hospitals free of charge.
The Indian Express has investigated official records that show how norms were altered despite objections since the Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued on 5 April 2022.
PDPL is running Dial 102 ambulances for the second time, but this time as the sole bidder.
The original RFP stated that the bidder, in the case of a sole bidder, must have experience in managing and operating "at least 750 ambulances (besides 50 advanced life support ambulances)" and a call centre of "at least 75 seats" over three years since 2018-19.
Changes in tender terms and allegations of "leaks" were made.
During the three years, PDPL did not independently operate ambulance services in Bihar and had a call centre with only 50 seats.
Therefore, the State Health Society of Bihar (SHSB), the Health Department agency responsible for the service, reduced the number of advanced life support ambulances to 40 and the call centre to 50 seats, providing PDPL with relief.
In May 2022, a corrigendum presented a crucial change.
The original RFP stated that "the final selection of the agency/bidder shall be as per Quality and Cost based Selection (a standard practice in hiring agency with good experience)," while the corrigendum stated that "the final selection of the agency shall be as per the least cost selection method." This effectively cleared the way for the lowest bidder.
Three RJD MLAs, namely Mukesh Kumar Roshan, Rishi Kumar, and Bhai Virendra, wrote a letter to the then Bihar health minister, BJP's Mangal Pandey, in July 2022. They alleged that there were "leaks" in the bidding documents and called for a fresh bidding process.
However, on 9 August 2022, Nitish Kumar broke ties with the BJP and joined the Grand Alliance of RJD and six other parties. As a result, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav became Deputy Chief Minister and Health Minister, and the complaint was put on hold.
MP Chandeshwar Prasad Chandravanshi stated, "It is my relatives' company, and I have no personal say or stake in it," when contacted by the Indian Express.
He defended his kin's business receiving a state government contract for the second time, despite allegations of favouritism. "We all know Nitish Kumar, he does not favour anyone," he said.
"PDPL is an established company that was in petroleum, liquor trading and transport business and got Dial 102 contract purely on merit. We are now established in ambulance services."
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