Reply On Plea Claiming Harassment In BharatNet Contracts Case, Centre Told

The society's lawyer Prashant Bhushan sought an order for protection from any coercive action, which was refused by the court.

Reply On Plea Claiming Harassment In BharatNet Contracts Case, Centre Told

The high court has listed the matter for further hearing on September 17. (File photo)

NewDelhi:

The Delhi High Court Thursday sought the Centre's reply on a society's plea alleging harassment and intimidation by police after filing certain documents in a petition challenging the award of contracts under the BharatNet project.

A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh issued notice on the application by the petitioner society, Telecom Watchdog, which has claimed that its Secretary received a notice from police in connection with an FIR registered at the behest of the Centre to investigate the leakage of documents and the same amounts to obstruction of administration of justice and criminal contempt of court.

The society's lawyer Prashant Bhushan sought an order for protection from any coercive action, which was refused by the court.

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

The counsel contended that certain information by way of the documents was brought to the notice of the court in public interest and the petitioner should be protected as a whistle-blower.

"File notings which are in public interest need to be disclosed," he argued.

In the application, the society has asserted that the documents "show huge corruption in the higher echelons of the government and their disclosure is highly significant for upholding larger public interest".

The application states that a “complaint dated 15.02.2021 filed before the Delhi Police was triggered at the behest of the Department of Telecommunications (Respondent No. 1)”, and "instead of bringing any grievance before this Hon'ble Court when this Hon'ble Court is already seized of the matter, the Respondent No.1 herein chose to get the F.I.R. registered, specifically targeting the Petitioner herein".

"The said documents are not at all concerned with national security or relationship with a foreign nation etc..," the application reads.

Additional Solicitor Generals Vikramjit Banerjee and Chetan Sharma objected to the application and said that allegations were without any basis.

On December 18, the court had issued notice on the society's petition challenging 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.

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, filed through advocates Pranav Sachdeva and Jatin Bhardwaj, 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 petition has alleged that "the scam started in March 2017 with the first contract (Contract-1) worth Rs 100 crore awarded for 5,000 WiFi Access points (APs). It was followed by second contract (Contract-2) for 28,248 WiFi APs worth over Rs 500 crore issued in February 2018."

It has also sought a direction to CVC to investigate the NGO's complaints made in 2018 and this year against the award of contracts to CSC in a time-bound manner.