20 Jun 2023 8:49 AM GMT
The Kerala High Court on Tuesday directed the State Government not to make any financial payments to the contractors connected with the installation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) cameras for road traffic regulation, until further orders. The Court also sought the response of the State Government, state undertaking KELTRON and the private players associated with the project.The Court...
The Kerala High Court on Tuesday directed the State Government not to make any financial payments to the contractors connected with the installation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) cameras for road traffic regulation, until further orders. The Court also sought the response of the State Government, state undertaking KELTRON and the private players associated with the project.
The Court was considering a plea filed by Leader of the Opposition of the Kerala Legislative Assembly and MLA V.D. Satheeshan and MLA Ramesh Chennithala seeking a Court monitored enquiry into the "Automated Traffic Enforcement System for Safe Kerala Project", which was envisioned by the Transport Department to install AI cameras across the State for capturing traffic violations. The petitioners have alleged corruption illegalities and corruption in the installation of AI Cameras that have "resulted in nepotism, favouritism and corruption including violation of privacy of persons".
Senior Advocate George Poonthottam, appearing on behalf of the two Congress MLAs, informed the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice S.V.N. Bhatti and Justice Basant Balaji, today, that initially, the Safe Kerala Project had been envisaged as a 'BOOT(Build, Own, Operate, Transfer) Model Project', and approval had been granted to implement the Project in that mode for five years. "In such a case (BOOT Mode), the employer or State is not required to effect any payment," the Senior Counsel told the Court.
However, the plea states that as per the agreement that had been entered into, the amount towards the project cost was to be settled in 20 quarterly installments (Annuity mode) of Rs.11,79,11,440/- each from the first quarter after implementation of the project. The petitioners have thus averred that the Project could therefore not be regarded as a conventional BOOT model, since it includes the condition that the amount required for the project ought to be provided.
Considering these submissions, the Court today directed the State not to make any further payments on any of the annuities through which the Project had been implemented, without further orders of the Court.
The Court also expressed that it was convinced that the matter required to be examined in light of these 'changing dynamics' of the implementation of the Project, and whether the State exchequer had been affected with the change in the nature of the Project from BOOT Module to Annuity Module.
"After perusing the exhibits, we are convinced that the matter needs to be examined from the perspective of changing dynamics of implementation of the project, whether it is objective, bona fide or vitiated by any of the collateral reasons now stated in the petition, with the change of module from BOOT to Annuity, the exchequer is directly or indirectly made to part with more than what was envisaged in the beginning...," the Court observed.
The Court today also took note that the petitioners through their present plea filed in public interest, were not objecting to the implementation of the Safe Kerala Project, but instead, were raising a number of allegations on the implementation of the project. It thus granted liberty to the petitioners to file an affidavit as to their stand on the transparency that ought to have been in place in the decision making process within two weeks.
The Court also issued notice before admission to the respondents in the matter.
The petitioners have alleged that KELTRON, which is a State Government Company, was just "one of the middlemen in the whole transaction which was a scam in the name of traffic safety", and that the objections raised by the Finance Department that KELTRON did not have the capacity or know-how on the subject and that its cost analysis and estimate was rudimentary and undependable were all "swept under the carpet and administrative sanction was given to the project". It has also been averred that SRIT, which emerged as the successful bidder for the Project, did not satisfy any of the minimum eligibility conditions either.
The petitioners alleged that corruption was involved while awarding subsequent tenders and sub-leasing the Service Level Agreement (SLA). It was claimed that the project involves a pyramid style of corruption right from the stage of issuance of the Government order. It has also been alleged that the initial figure of Rs.75 crore as given by the MD of KELTRON was ballooned to a figure of Rs.236 crore by KELTRON which then tendered it for Rs.151 crore to SRIT.
The plea also states that the illegalities which were noted in the Project have also been whitewashed stating that KELTRON is a public entity and the project is for the safety of the people.
"In fact, the Government has stepped in and whitewashed not only the clear-cut illegalities in the Project but also the widespread corruption from the conceiving of the project to its birth," it adds.
Additionally, the petitioners have also claimed that the confidential and private data of the individuals including their driving license and other information from Vahan are left to the mercy of private operators, thus leading to violation of the Fundamental right to privacy of individuals.
The petitioners have also averred in their plea stated that between the time of KELTRON's proposal in 2018 and its actual delivery in 2023, the technology available and quality of devices have undergone great change, making the components now supplied obsolete and a pure waste of tax payers money.
It is in this backdrop that the petitioners approached the Court seeking a court-monitored probe, averring that the investigating agencies in the State are 'helpless' in this case.
The matter has been posted for further consideration after 3 weeks.
The plea has been moved through Advocates Nisha George, J Vishnu, Arun Chandran, A.L. Navaneeth Krishnan and Sidharth R Wariyar.
Case Title: V.D. Satheeshan & Anr. v. State of Kerala & Ors.
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