Singapore firm protests Airports Authority of India’s ‘bias’

March 2nd, 2008 - 1:16 pm ICT by admin  

By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, March 2 (IANS) A Singapore-based firm has accused the state-managed Airports Authority of India (AAI) of bias in a deal for installing common use terminal equipment (CUTE) at 13 airfields across the country, saying its rival was unfairly selected. Terming the selection process as “unjust”, “illegal”, “prejudicial” and “unlawful”, Singapore-based ARINC has urged Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and AAI chief M. Ramalingam to review the nod to the Brussels-based SITA (Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques) to supply and operate the CUTE system for a seven-year period.

For good measure, it has also asked the AAI’s chief vigilance officer D.S. Mishra to probe the tendering process.

“We have received a complaint. This is being examined,” Mishra told IANS.

The CUTE system enables airlines to check in baggage and issue boarding cards from the counters of rival carriers whenever there is a sudden rush of passengers.

Essentially meant to spread the rush across all counters, the system ensures that if there is a rush at a particular airline’s counter while the adjacent ones of a rival are free, the carrier can shift its staff to the vacant ones to clear the congestion.

The CUTE system is in operation at 10 airports, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Kochi, and AAI had last year floated a global tender for extending it to cities like Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Goa, Guwahati, Jaipur, Srinagar and Varanasi.

Two companies, ARINC and SITA, responded to the AAI tender.

During the evaluation of the technical process, ARNIC says, it learnt “through its sources” that SITA had submitted a conditional proposal - which was barred under the terms of the tender.

ARNIC says it brought this to the notice of the AAI, pointing to clause four of the tender document which stated: “Tenderer shall submit only one offer. Conditional offers or alternate offer will not be entertained and will be outrightly rejected.”

In spite of this, ARNIC says, AAI executive director (Commercial) R.V. Narayanan wrote to SITA on August 16, 2007, asking it to withdraw its conditionalities if it wanted to remain in contention.

“In case you are interested that your tender be considered, you are hereby called upon to withdraw your conditional offer without prejudice to the right and condition failing which your tender will be automatically rejected. The confirmation to the withdrawal of all conditions as mentioned in your tender documents should reach positively on 17th August, 2007, by 1530 hours,” says Narayanan’s letter, a copy of which IANS has accessed.

SITA did not comply with this requirement but, even so, was issued a letter on Sep 19, 2007, accepting its offer. It replied to this on Oct 3, 2007, saying: “As requested in item 2 (ii) of the letter, we are pleased to confirm that SITA agrees to withdraw unconditionally the conditions contained in SITA’s proposal to the Airport (sic) Authority of India, Technical Bid dated May 30, 2007.”

As if this was not bad enough, ARNIC says, AAI also reneged on its pledge to give the company an opportunity to match its rival’s bid when the financial bids were opened.

“Sure, it emerged that the SITA offer was just three percent higher than ours, but we were not permitted to make a counter offer,” an ARNIC official said.

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