Curiouser and curiouser,” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The mystery of MP’s great cyber heist, unearthed in May this year, is getting ‘curiouser and curiouser’. The MP Government’s e-tender scam is, arguably, the biggest financial swindle in its history. It entails public contracts worth Rs 3,000 crore.
The figure may go up to Rs 10,000 crore, given the length and breadth of rigging of the state government’s e-procurement platform, say those familiar with the development. It is, in a nutshell, a massive scandal.
However, the MP government seems to be in no hurry to unravel the mystery, find out the identity of the racketeers and punish the guilty. Even after four months, the Economic Offences Wing of MP Police is still investigating the case. It seems to be dragging its feet as it is yet to register an FIR. And since there is no criminal case, there are no arrests.
Scam buster transferred
The private players running the government’s tampered system are still in command. IAS officer Manish Rastogi, who exposed the scam and possessed the technical skills to investigate it properly, was shunted out of the department under mysterious circumstances.
The government is treating it as a simple case of hacking. The opposition alleges a conspiracy to grant financial contracts to favourite businessmen. The truth probably, as usual, lies somewhere in-between.
In what seemed like an inside job, racketeers rigged the government’s secure portal to manipulate online tenders. Encrypted tender documents were modified at backend. No one knows for how many years this racket had been going on. E-tendering was started in MP in 2014. Since then work orders worth thousands of crores of rupee have been issued through the online process.
The officer who busted scam
The then PHE secretary Pramod Agarwal, considered an honest officer, was the first one to raise the red flag after a participant company complained about suspected tampering earlier this year. PHE took up the matter with the nodal agency, MP State Electronic Development Corporation, which comes under the science and technology department. Manish Rastogi, who headed the department, is a computer science engineer from IIT. He is known both for integrity and outspokenness.
After an internal investigation, Rastogi is said to have realised that it could turn out to be more than an isolated case of simple hacking. Initial inquiry indicated that serious breach in security happened because the two private companies hired to manage online tendering could have violated several conditions in the rule book. The Government promptly cancelled three of the rigged tenders worth Rs 3,000 crore.
On June 6 last, Rastogi issued a show cause notice to the two companies — Tata Consultancy Services that managed hardware, its maintenance, training and helpdesk and Antares Systems Ltd that calls itself Tender Wizard and managed software and database administration. When one heard next, Rastogi had proceeded on leave and the government unceremoniously shunted him from the department.
The State Government had, meanwhile, handed over the case to EOW which has neither the expertise nor the wherewithal to deal with complex cyber crimes of this magnitude. EOW has tried to rope in GOI’s Indian Computer Emergency Response Team for further probe, with little success till now.
9 tenders cancelled
The police have seized voluminous data amounting to nine terabyte from MPSEDC, which has since then recommended cancellation of half a dozen more tenders. Its internal inquiry raises concern over the role of a private firm in Bhopal that was given access to passwords. Most officials are reluctant to touch the scam with a barge pole at this juncture, a few weeks before the assembly elections.
In the Vyapam scam, a nexus of corrupt officials, politicians and businessmen had rigged recruitment in government jobs and admissions to medical college. The case, still pending in courts, has left behind such a stench that in an effort to get rid of the smell of blood the government even changed Vyapam’s name, converting it into Professional Examination Board. But all the perfumes of Arabia would not sweeten this little hand.
Coming as it does closely on the heels of Vyapam scam, MP’s great cyber heist has brought shame to the system. There is another parallel to Vyapam too. Just as in the case of the e-tender scam, MP Government had resisted the opposition demand for a CBI inquiry. It relented only after the Supreme Court started breathing down its neck.
It seems that this time we may have to wait till assembly elections for a proper inquiry into MP’s mega scam
DB Post 15 September 2016