Cong demands probe into financial 'irregularities' in BharatNet programme

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New Delhi, Jul 17 (PTI) The Congress on Saturday demanded an independent and time-bound probe by a sitting judge into the alleged financial irregularities in the optical fibre cable work under the Centre's BharatNet programme flagged by the Comptroller Auditor General of India (CAG).

Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said in a preliminary report, the CAG has pointed out that huge payments were made between July 2019 and December 2020 to Common Service Centres (CSC) under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

He claimed the CAG further noted that 'the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) could not impose a penalty on CSC for delays in completion of BharatNet work'.

'In the absence of a service-level agreement and prescribed timeline for the restoration of faults and non-inclusion of penal clause, there was no deterrent for CSC to ensure that there is no delay in rectification of faults occurring in BharatNet Phase-I,' Khera said citing the CAG report.

'We demand an independent, high-level, time-bound inquiry into the goings of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology,' he said.

There has to be a judicial inquiry by a sitting judge to ensure that it is an independent probe because this involves thousands of crores of taxpayers' money, he told reporters.

Khera also alleged that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has been awarding projects to private parties indirectly through CSC-SPV and its wholly-owned subsidiary CSC Wi-Fi Choupal Services India Private Limited.

'Following the preliminary report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and these findings on the functioning of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, is the removal of a minister from the Union Cabinet enough?' he asked.

'What is the action (that) you will take to punish those guilty of alleged siphoning off of funds to the tune of thousands of crores,' he further asked.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the CAG report has exposed 'huge irregularities'.

'Can DOT, GOI award contracts without tender? Can payments of crores be made without even a formal contract? Who is responsible for Bharatnet's failure during pandemic? Will the IT Min answer?' Surjewala asked in a tweet. PTI SKC DIV DIV

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