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Award of contracts under BharatNet project: HC issues notice to DoT for police action against whistleblower

The Delhi High Court, on Thursday, issued notices to the Department of Telecom and its various officers on a contempt application by Telecom Watchdog, alleging harassment by the police. The Division Bench comprising Justice JN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, however, refused to issue notices to the Delhi police.

The contempt application has been filed against Secretary, DoT; Deputy Administrator (T-II), Universal Services Obligation (USO) Fund; and certain police officers, but the court refused to issue notices to the police officers at this stage.

Appearing for the petitioners who had filed a PIL seeking to quash contracts granted allegedly on a nomination basis by the administrator of the USO Fund to a private firm, advocate Prashan Bhushan said subsequent to the court proceedings, the police have been harassing and pressuring members of the petitioner organisation. On August 18, a police officer came to the house of one of the members of the petitioner organisation and served him a notice to appear at Parliament Street police station on August 23, said the application on behalf of the petitioners.

The notice was served without the FIR, but it mentioned that offences had been registered under sections 380 (theft in dwelling used for custody of property), 411 (dishonestly receiving stolen property) of IPC with 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of CrPC.

Telecom Watchdog members then appeared before the police while their legal representative wrote a letter explaining to the police the complete background of the case, urging them to stop their proceedings because the court was already seized of the matter.

The FIR provided to the Telecom Watchdog revealed that Deputy Administrator (T-II) working under administrator, USO Fund of the DoT, had filed the police complaint on February 15, instead of bringing their grievance before the court which was hearing the petition.

“The conduct of the Delhi police in calling signing authority of the petitioner organisation to the police station and asking him to reveal the source of documents filed before this Hon’ble court and to face consequences if does not do so is direct and blatant interference with due course of judicial proceedings and obstruction of justice amounting to criminal contempt of this Hon’ble court,” said Bhushan.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, however, refused to pass an order for protection from any coercive action.

“We are not issuing notice to the police… We are seeking reply from the Union of India,” said Patel, and the matter was listed for further hearing on September 17.

The petition pertains to award of contracts to Common Service Centres e-Governance Services Ltd (CSC) for installing WiFi access points in villages across the country under the BharatNet project without following the tender process. On December 18, the court had issued notice on the petition.

The court was informed that CSC was a special purpose vehicle (SPV) created by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) for providing e-governance services under the public-private partnership (PPP) model. The petition contended that CSC SPV was a private company, but was allegedly projecting itself as a government entity to get the contracts on nomination basis.

The NGO has further alleged that after receiving contracts from the government, CSC SPV passes on the same to its wholly owned subsidiary – CSC WiFiChoupal Services India Pvt Ltd (CSC Choupal) – which, in turn, passes on the contracts to various other private companies without any tender. The Hindu BusinessLine

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