Treading murky waters

Yambem Laba *

Although a bill was passed in Parliament last year, the National Sports University in Manipur has run into a series of controversies and is yet to be constructed. It was with a great sense of national pride that the Central Government announced the setting up of a National Sports University in Manipur in 2016.

It was the first such establishment being set up in the country and perhaps, the third in Asia after China and Japan. And it was also said that it was the Centre’s gift to the people of Manipur for the prowess it had exhibited in the realm of sports by representing the country in various international meets including the Olympics. Manipur had, down the years, gained a reputation of being the powerhouse of Indian sports. People of the state as well as sports lovers across the country were jubilant.

Troubles began with the selection of the site of the Manipur sports university. Then Congress chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh decided to use it as a vote bank and chose to locate it within his district of Thoubal. He chose a place called Yaithibi Loukol in Kakching, an area which was under rice cultivation. The people there protested over the decision and the stalemate continued for a while.

That was when people of Koutruk in Imphal West District came to the rescue and offered 350 acres of land in their village, free of cost, to the state authorities for establishing the NSU in national interest. By this single act of charity from the villagers of Koutruk, the Centre saved several crores of rupees that would have had to be given as compensation for acquiring land.

Thereafter Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Imphal in 2016 and laid the foundation stone of the National Sports University. A camp office was set up at Olympic Bhawan of the Manipur Olympic Association within the Khuman Lampak Sports Complex in Imphal. The Centre appointed just three people to man the office — Jayashree Acharya from the Lakshmibai National Institute of Physical Education in Gwalior as dean, K Radhakumar Singh (a retired IAS office of the state) as registrar, and a retired Army officer, Major Y Angamba Singh (born in Imphal but now settled in Delhi) as the deputy project director.

Classes began in makeshift classrooms with guest lecturers. Trouble soon erupted when the dean began bypassing the registrar over policy matters. The first was when an assistant professor had the mess manager of the hostel assaulted, resulting in an FIR being lodged. Even the sports secretary was said to have rung up the chief secretary to apply pressure to have the FIR withdrawn and that was eventually done.

When time came for paying the assistant professor’s salary, the registrar pointed out to the dean that since he was on a contract, he could not be paid for the 10-odd days when he had not turned up for work. The dean however chose to ignore the registrar.

Thereafter on the appointment of guest lecturers, it was pointed out, both to the dean as well as the Union sports secretary that the procedure ought to follow established UGC norms of first putting out an open advertisement and calling for interviews with requisite subject experts. The dean again decided to ignore the directives of the registrar. Radhakumar Singh put in his resignation papers as he received no support from higher ups in the Sports Ministry.

All such murky happenings in the new-born NSU, however, proved to be the tip of the iceberg. When the tender process began for the construction of the NSU at Koutruk, the construction mafia came into the picture. Tenders were floated by the National Building Construction Corporation of India Limited, which directed its subsidiary, the Hindustan Steelworks Construction Limited to carry out the necessary bidding.

Four parties bid for it but only two were left in the fray for final consideration. They were the Planning and Development Authority, a Government of Manipur Undertaking with a member of the Legislative Assembly as its chairman. The other was Simplex Projects Limited, a Kolkata-based construction firm. The PDA’s bid was for Rs 104 crore while Simplex stated it would be able to do the job for Rs 98 crore. By standard tender rules, Simplex was awarded the contract as it was the lowest bidder.

While the HSCL authorities may claim that they were going by the rule book, they chose to ignore the notorious trail of records that the Simplex group had. First, they were named as co-accused in a CBI case of criminal conspiracy and cheating through fraudulent availing of letters of credit from Vijaya Bank and Canara Bank amounting to over Rs 290 crore.

Then, the Securities and Exchange Board of India blacklisted Simplex for non-compliance of their regulations — specifically for violating the “Listing of Obligations and Disclosure Requirements” Regulations, 2013. The Sebi, according to its order dated 26 November 2018, said that trading in securities of Simplex and 22 other firms were suspended.

Then came the bombshell from the director of the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal. Professor A Santa Singh in a signed letter (number RIMS/HSCC/2/12-13/1 Part I dated 30 April 2018) had issued an expulsion notice to Simplex. The letter was addressed to Sudarshan Mundhra, director of Simplex, for non-completion of construction of hostels and residential quarters within the Rims complex.

The agreement was signed on 27 April 2016, which said all construction works were to be completed within 24 months and handed over for use by 3 March 2018. Simply put, Simplex was declared persona non grata within the Rims complex and the construction was completed by the institute.

On 14 January this year, Manipur sports minister, Letpao Haokip wrote to Rajyavardhan Rathore, Union minister of youth affairs and sports, stating he had learnt that the HSCL is considering awarding the construction of the NSU Complex to Simplex, a firm with a dismal record of non-completion of projects entrusted to it, resulting in huge cost escalation.

Another letter was shot off to Anoop Kumar Mittal, chairman of HSCL, by K Bhabananda Singh, Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha from Manipur. The same matter pointed out to Rathore was intimated to Mittal. It added that the governments of Maharashtra and Assam had already blacklisted the Simplex Group for non-performance there. Bhabananda also urged Mittal not to allot the construction of the NSU to the Simplex Group.

According to reports, it was said that Mary Kom, the other Rajya Sabha MP from Manipur, had reportedly written a letter to Rathore recommending Simplex. The Central Government has, in the meantime, passed the National Sports University Bill in Parliament last year, although no vice-chancellor has been appointed as yet.

The history of Simplex in Manipur started when Okram Ibobi Singh was chief minister. He began awarding all major contract works to this firm including construction of market places; two of which constructed by Simplex nearly collapsed when an earthquake hit Manipur in 2016. The third, made by the state PWD, held firm.

The construction of the City Convention Centre and the Sanjenthong Bridge were not completed on time. At the moment, Simplex are also involved in the construction of the new market place at Tombisana High School in Imphal and the new Secretariat complex at Chingmeirong, both of which are months behind schedule. Chief minister N Biren Singh has openly declared that he will blacklist Simplex.

Therefore, it warrants little mention that dreams of transforming India into a sporting powerhouse by establishing the NSU may turn into a nightmare if the company in question gets down to constructing it.

Courtesy : The Statesman

* Yambem Laba wrote this article for 'The Statesman' which was subsequently published at The Sangai Express
The writer is the Imphal-based Special Representative of The Statesman
This article was webcasted on March 04, 2019.

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