Friday, March 27, 2009

Money Spinning in India's Weather Predictions

Following are the three reports appeared on 'The Pioneer' daily on the violation of norms in the purchase of Radars and Lightning Detection Systems by India Meteorological Department

Sept 11, 2008 - The Pioneer

Met flouts rules in buying radars

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has placed an order for purchasing 12 S-band Doppler Weather Radars, worth more than Rs 100 crore, violating a key tender condition on providing the source code.Shutting the doors on indigenously-built radars developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the IMD has decided to buy these from Beijing Metstar, a Chinese assembler which has not offered to provide a source code. The firm has a joint venture with Lockheed Martin.

For purchase of the S-band Doppler Weather Radars for early warning of tsunami, the IMD floated a tender on October 24, 2007. Apart from ISRO, four international companies participated in the tender. They include Selex Gamatronik (Germany), EEC (US), Sun Create (China), the world-renowned manufactures of S-band Doppler Weather Radars, and Beijing Metstar, Lockheed Martin's Chinese partner. ISRO entered the bid through the public sector Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).

According to the tender procedures, the bidding companies had to supply the source code. The Pioneer's investigations reveal that no company was ready to share the source code unconditionally, except Sun Create of China. Selex Gamatronik of Germany offered the source code on escrow basis. Beijing Metstar could not even offer the source code since it was just an assembler and not a manufacturer. The firm used technology from Sigmet of the Vaisala Group of companies, which refused to share its source code, considered an intellectual property, with others.

The IMD on May 30, 2008, awarded the job to Beijing Metstar. According to Union Science & Technology Minister Kapil Sibal, the tender was awarded for Rs.105.85 crore. Justifying the firm's selection, Sibal told The Pioneer it had "offered off-the-shelf source codes". The Minister evaded a reply when The Pioneer sought a clarification on the meaning of "off-the shelf source code" and asked him to confirm whether Beijing Metstar had supplied the source code.

He also did not respond to the question why Enterprise Electronics Corporation (EEC) and Sun Create were rejected by TEC, though they were among the biggest radar manufacturers in the world.A clearer reply came from Secretary of Science & Technology Dr T Ramasami on the Beijing Metstar issue. "None of them, except Sun Create, offered unconditional source code," Ramasami said. Though he added that the supply of source code was not a main condition, tender documents available with The Pioneer prove otherwise.

The Pioneer investigation shows that Sun Create was the lowest bidder and also offered the source code unconditionally. Apart from offering the source code, which is worth millions of dollars in the international market, the rate for supply of 12 radars offered by Sun Create was Rs 98.06 crore. The company also offered to manufacture six of the 12 radars in India.

The Pioneer has learned that a TEC member, Dr TGK Murthy of ISRO, was kept out of the loop and not present in the decision-making process. Sources in ISRO said Murthy was sidelined because he did not favour the import of radars and strongly advocated their indigenous production. In response to a query, Ramasami said the TEC consisted of eight members and Murthy's name did not figure in the list provided by him.

When The Pioneer contacted Murthy to know whether he was the part of the decision-making body, he quipped: "I don't want to talk about my bad experience." He refused to elaborate. The IMD officials cleverly aborted ISRO's claim by inserting a clause in the tender that bidders must have two working radars. ISRO has only one such radar operating successfully at Satish Dhawan Space Centre at SHAR in Sriharikota. ISRO's second radar in Banglore would be operational by mid 2009.

Sept 12, 2008 - The Pioneer

ISRO complains to PM against Met's 'import mania'

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has constituted a joint working group to oversee the modernisation of India Meteorological Department following ISRO's complaints that its bid for supply of 12 S-Band Doppler Weather radars were ignored to help a foreign firm. Sources in ISRO revealed their top brass had complained to the Prime Minister on the 'import mania' of IMD officials who had bypassed claims of indigenous manufacturers to award the contract to a foreign firm that did not meet the tender criteria.

The chairman of the group is IMD director general Ajit Tyagi and co-chairman is ISRO project director Dr TGK Murthy, who incidentally had been removed from the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) for radar purchase.ISRO officials pointed out to the PMO while Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) placed an order with them on May 1 for similar radars, the IMD strangely ignored their claims.

They also said similar radar located in Sriharikotta was working successfully.The tender floated by IMD for the purchase of 12 S-band Doppler Weather radars included a peculiar clause allegedly to bypass ISRO, which participated in the tender through Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). The clause insisted that the bidder should have two working radars. "Everybody knows that ISRO has one working radar. Our next radar will be operational by mid-2009. This clause was purposefully included to throw out ISRO and import from their favourite company," said the ISRO official.

When The Pioneer sought a clarification from the Minister for Science and Technology, Earth Sciences Kapil Sibal on ignoring ISRO's claim, he replied: "ISRO-supported firm BEL could not qualify in TEC because they failed to submit earnest money deposit which is essentially required to be submitted by every bidder. Despite this they were included for TEC evaluation but they got disqualified because they did not have two Doppler radars in working condition."The Pioneer had earlier reported the radar supply order had gone to Beijing Metstar that had not offered a source code, which was the main requirement in the tender document. While ISRO lost the order, even the lowest bidder Sun Create which offered source code unconditionally, did not get the order.


Feb 16, 2009

IMD struck deal for buying weather systems, alleges BEL.

One of the leading public sector undertakings, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), has alleged foul play and corruption in finalising the purchase of multi-crore lightning detection systems (LDSs) by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). The LDS installation would help improve weather forecast and thunderstorm study.The tussle between the two Government agencies started when the IMD rejected BEL’s offer at the stage of technical evaluation.

The IMD invited tenders for the installation of 10 LDSs in October 2008. The department has also announced installation of 90 more LDSs over the next two years. There are only three companies manufacturing the LDS. One is Nowcast GmbH of Germany, represented by BEL; second is TOA of US; and the third is Vaisala of Finland.Nowcast, which is represented by BEL, has installed 125 lightning stations in over 25 countries. The market price of the equipments supplied by this company is around Rs 60 lakh per unit, which is much lower than that of Vaisala’s equipment.

Vaisala’s representatives in India are HBE-Aviosec Pvt Ltd and Three-D Integrated Solutions Pvt Ltd. Interestingly, the majority stake in these two Delhi-based companies is held by same persons — Nand Lal Bhatia and Kuldeep Kaul.

A letter written by BEL to the IMD Director General alleges gross violation in the tender procedure to provide “unfair advantage” to the two firms and “mislead a fair tender evaluation”.“Of the four submitted bids, it is observed that two parties — ie M/s HBE-Aviosex and Three-D Integrated Solutions — have quoted the similar product and model of Vaisala LS 800. Further, it is brought to your notice that the ownership and management of both these companies are the same,” points out BEL’s letter to the Meteorological Department.

“They have quoted the same equipment from Vaisala Inc under the pretext of two different names of companies to gain unfair advantage and mislead a fair tender evaluation. This practice is also against the prevailing and established tender norms,” added BEL in its complaint, dated January 15. The public sector undertaking had earlier sent another complaint on January 9 for not being intimated about any details on the tender procedures.

Installation of LDS is the part of a Rs 500-crore modernisation package for the accurate studies on forecasting weather. Apart form the data received from the radars, the compilation of data collected from the LDS would enhance the advanced study on weather prediction.This initial tender for the installation of 10 equipments was meant to be completed before the Commonwealth Games 2010.

Obviously, the firm which bagged this initial order would also stand to get the contract for the supply of the remaining 90 equipments. While these two companies would simply acquire the LDS from Vaisala and supply it to IMD, the BEL proposed to import 10 LDS and indigenously built the remaining 90 with the support of Nowcast.But the Meteorological Department argues that the other products were of inferior quality and did not meet the required technical specifications.

When The Pioneer contacted the Director General of Meteorological Department, he replied that the bid submitted by BEL "was not considered technically acceptable". The detailed letter of the Director General lists out a series of "technical flaws" of the BEL-sponsored equipments.

The BEL technocrats and their principal company, Nowcast of Germany, describes the Meteorological Department's observations as "a bundle of lies" to implement a "hidden agenda". Whatever may be the reasons for the rejection of BEL's bid, the question remains why two firms owned by the same persons who represented the same Finland company were selected for supplying the same model.

The Pioneer had earlier reported (on September 11, 2008) that in violation of norms, the Meteorological Department had also kicked out BEL from contract of the ISRO-made S-Band Doppler Radars and awarded a deal worth more than Rs 100 crore to Chinese assembler Beijing Metstar, which is controlled by US giant Lockheed Martin.

[Writer is a Special Correspondent of 'The Pioneer']


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