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How Sisodia sanctioned 'Talk To AK' scam

CBI investigators scrutinising documents to check whether the AAP govt committed violations that could benefit the party in poll-bound states

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Deputy CM of Delhi Manish Sisodia during election campaign in Punjab recently.
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After registering a preliminary enquiry against Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia for alleged irregularities in awarding a contract for the 'Talk to AK' programme, CBI investigators are scrutinising documents to establish whether the AAP government committed violations that could benefit the party in poll-bound states.

Documents accessed by DNA reveal that Sisodia ignored the tender process and gave the contract to Perfect Relations. Perfect Relations is also a consultant to Directorate of Information and Publicity (DIP), which raises the question of conflict of interest. Incidentally, the government's finance department had warned DIP about the violation of rules, as a consultant cannot be allowed to benefit from its own advice.

According to a report prepared by former Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung's office, the entire process— which occurred from July 6, 2016 to July 8, 2016—was riddled with "irregularities." This along with other documents forms the basis of the preliminary enquiry initiated by CBI.

The modalities of the 'Talk to AK' programme, was discussed in June. It should have been initiated then but instead was only proposed on July 6, 2016 and launched on July 8, 2016.

"The delay is caused to avoid a thorough examination and to subvert the process of tender," alleged the LG's report.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal held an interactive session 'Talk to AK' on the lines of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Mann ki Baat on July 17 last year — where he took questions through social media. But the documents show he spent taxpayers money to the tune of Rs 1.05 crore by using this opportunity to reach out to people of Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Punjab, apart from Delhi.

The CBI also found that there was no justification as to why the social media session was executed. "It was found that no purpose was to be served to the citizens of Delhi as the target audience was for other states such as Punjab, Goa and Gujarat where election are being scheduled," the documents state.

Uncovering the Allegations

Documents also say that the idea of the programme was conceived by Kejriwal, Sisodia and the Media advisor to the Chief Minister. On June 6, 2016, a meeting had been convened by the Chief Minister to discuss the modalities of the programme. "The meeting was attended by Sisodia, Delhi Dialogue Commission Vice Chairman Ashish Khetan, Media advisor Nagendra Sharma and representatives of Communication Constants," it stated.

At the meeting, Perfect Relations was requested to formulate a proposal to roll out the social media campaign.

On July 6, 2016, a proposal was formulated by Perfect Relations to the tune of Rs 1,58,75,000. This included 12 per cent agency fees and 15 per cent service tax.

"On July 8, 2016, Perfect Relations in its revised proposal agreed to forgo the agency fee of 12 per cent as mentioned in its initial proposal and also agreed to execute the project without any remuneration," the Delhi government finance department stated.

On the same day, special director DIP stated that there was no government approved rates for undertaking the proposed digital campaign in Facebook, Google and YouTube. He stated to the Finance Department that they had three options — open tender, limited tender among DIP empanelled agencies, and awarding the work to the communication consultant Perfect Relations — for giving the contract.

The government's finance department raised several objections about the programme but it was overruled by Sisodia and the contract was given to Perfect Relations. The special director DIP also stated that if the government goes in for open and limited tender the programme needs to be rescheduled by 15 days. In case the date cannot be rescheduled then awarding the work to Perfect Relations is feasible.

Finance Department's Objection

On the same day, the matter was referred to the Finance department with the approval of Sisodia. On July 11, 2016 the finance department raised objections that DIP needs to confirm the reasonableness of the rate and its basis. "A proper justification as to why open tender cannot be invoked and the department may approach cabinet," the Principal Secretary (Finance Department) Dharmendar Sharma said.

The Finance department's observations was mailed to Sisodia on July 12. Sisodia then said, "Considering the limited time available before the programme of Honourable CM, the proposal of DIP is approved. DIP should follow Finance Department's observation in future."

The file was sent back to DIP on July 12, 2016 which awarded the contract to Perfect Relations on July 13, 2016, with effect from July 8 — the date the campaign was launched.

Conflict of Interest

After finding that the contract had been awarded to Perfect Relations despite objections of the Finance Department, Sharma on July 14, raised an ex-facie concern of conflict of interest. He immediately called a meeting with Secretary DIP SS Yadav and told him, "Without doubt Perfect Relations... achieved the status of DIP's communication consultants for "financial consideration".

The day that Kejriwal was live on air on July 14, Sharma noted that the proposal of Talk to AK was a case of conflict of interest. This was because Perfect Relations "voluntarily and unethically" had become the beneficiary of its own advice in terms of both selection and potential commercial and financial implications. Sharma further stated that payment should not be released to Perfect Relations.

Role of DIP

On July 28, 2016 Special Secretary (DIP) put note after discussing the matter with Sisodia stating, "The observations made by Principal Secretary (Finance) seems unjustified and inappropriate and suggested that the matter may be placed before the council of ministers for post-facto approval."

On August 17, 2016 a draft cabinet note was prepared and sent to the finance department. Then on September 9, 2016 the finance department stated that DIP should justify why the contract was given to Perfect Relations. The observations of the finance department, was then approved by Sisodia, and it was sent to Secretary DIP for circulating the draft cabinet note to the law and planning departments.

Finally, the matter was placed before the Delhi cabinet on September 1, 2016 and it was approved by Kejriwal stating that the payment be released.

CBI FINDINGS HINT AT A PROBABLE SPY UNIT

The CBI conducted searches at Delhi Secretariat on Friday evening for the alleged setting up of a spy unit under the Directorate of Vigilance where former IB and government officers were hired. The spy unit was allegedly running under the shadow of the feedback unit created after AAP came to power. "The agency collected the documents related to creation of the unit," said a source at Players' Building. The alleged violation was referred to the CBI by the former L-G Najeeb Jung before demitting office.

The L-G's office came to know about the unit in September 2016 while the office was examining the files after the Delhi High Court, ruled that the L-G is the administrative head of the city government. But the state government had refuted the claims about the existence of the spy unit.

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