In a relief to former Kerala IT secretary M Sivasankar, a government-appointed panel has found that no "evil design, malice or bad faith" could be attributed to him in connection with the data deal with US-based tech firm Sprinklr, which had triggered a widespread controversy in the state putting the previous Pinarayi Vijayan government in a fix.
Indicating that there was no data loss due to the deal, the three-member committee, chaired by former state law secretary K Sasidharan Nair, said there is no evidence, as of now, to prove that the interest of the state was adversely affected due to the engagement of Sprinklr.
However, the report confirmed various procedural lapses committed by the former principal secretary, who is now under suspension in connection with the gold smuggling scam, and said he did not even ensure the basic security measures to be adopted while engaging Sprinklr.
It was the second panel appointed by the Left government to probe the issues of the controversial deal regarding the transfer of the data of COVID-19 patients in the state.
Rubbishing the panel finding, the Opposition Congress said the report was intended to ''whitewash" M Sivasankar and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and a judicial probe should be carried to bring out the truth regarding the controversial deal.
"On a totality of all facts and materials on record and taking note of the extraordinary circumstances prevailing at that point of time, the Committee is of the view that no evil design, malice or bad faith can be attributed upon M Sivasankar for his lapses in engaging Sprinklr for data analysis," the report said.
As per the panel, the Sprinklr activities continued only for less than a month and by April 20, 2020, the entire data had already been transferred to the State Data Centre managed by C-DIT and instructions were also given to destroy data if any remained with Sprinklr forthwith.
Accordingly, Sprinklr reported compliance with the same and there is no evidence, as of now, to prove that the interest of the State was adversely affected due to the engagement of Sprinklr, it added.
Pointing to the procedural lapses committed by M Sivasankar in the execution of the deal, the report said no file had been processed in the Electronics & IT Department to engage Sprinklr for data analysis as mandated in the Rules of Business of Government of Kerala and Secretariat Office Manual.
The Centre's prescribed guidelines for the procurement of Cloud Services by a government department from a Cloud Service Provider was also violated in the deal, it said.
The former principal secretary did not consult with the concerned departments including Law, Finance and Health before entering into the pact with the foreign firm, the report said.
Noting that he did not even ensure the basic security measures to be adopted while engaging Sprinklr, the panel also found that no agreements or documents had been executed as required by law for ensuring data security.
M Sivasankar ''failed'' to ensure the security standards to be followed for transmitting sensitive data over the internet, it further added.
Though a two-member committee, headed by former civil servant M Madhavan Nambiar, had earlier submitted a report with critical remarks against M Sivasankar pointing to the alleged procedural irregularities in the deal executed by him, the government had last November appointed the new panel to study the earlier committee's report and findings and prepare a more comprehensive one.
The opposition parties had criticised the government action, saying it was to sabotage the probe into the deal.
The Nair panel's report, submitted to the government in April, came to the public domain now after it was tabled in the state Assembly as part of response to a question raised by Congress legislators PT Thomas and PC Vishnunath.
To an un-starred question by the MLAs, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan replied that the government had entrusted the three-member panel chaired by Nair to study the Nambiar panel's report.
The government is examining the report findings and a total of Rs 5, 27,830 had been spent so far for the panel, he added in the reply.
Vinaya Babu, a retired professor and Sumesh Divakaran, Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, College of Engineering here were the other expert members of the panel.
Reacting to the panel report, senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala, who had been an arch critic of the previous Vijayan government over the deal, said it was strange for the panel to declare that Sivasankar was not guilty even as they confirmed the procedural violations by him.
"The panel says that Sivasankar has done wrong but not guilty. That's strange. So, who is the culprit? The bureaucratic panel has made a covert move to save not only Sivasakar but Chief Minister also" he said.
KPCC Chief K Sudhakaran and Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly VD Satheesan also shared the same views.
While Mr Sateesan alleged the report was to protect the interest of the LDF government, Mr Sudhakaran charged the the government with trying to save its face under the cover of the panel findings.
The Sprinklr deal had kicked up a political storm in the state as opposition parties alleged transfer of sensitive health related data of people to a foreign firm without their knowledge or acceptance.
When the state government had landed in trouble over the issue, M Sivasankar, who was also the private secretary to the Chief Minister then, had openly admitted that it was his professional decision to enter into such a pact with the foreign firm.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)