KPT, shipping ministry mull action in Rs 1,000 cr dredging scam

After a district court ordered a probe into the alleged Rs 1,000 crore corruption in dredging on May 30, the government-run Kandla Port Trust (KPT) has asked officials to collect a copy of the order passed by the Gandhidham court so as to decide on the next course of action. Meanwhile, sources in KPT as well as the Ministry of Shipping said that options are being evaluated with regards to what action can be taken against the official who has come under scrutiny.

Sanjay Bhaty, a trade promotion and public relation officer at the KPT filed a petition at the Gandhidham court seeking investigation against the port's own anti-corruption watchdog the chief vigilance officer (CVO), P Ramjee, an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer on deputation at KPT. Following the petition, the additional chief judicial magistrate D R Swaminarayan of Gandhidham directed the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) to lodge an FIR under sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Sections 420 (cheating) and forgery into the allegations of Rs 1,000 crore dredging contracts' corruption against Ramjee.

"We have already directed officials to collect copies of the order, and senior officials at the ministry as well as KPT are well aware of the matter. We are evaluating what actions can be taken in this case which involves two senior officials of the Port," said a senior official of KPT. Another official at the Ministry of Shipping too admitted that the matter was being taken seriously, even as all options were being considered for strict action against those found guilty.

Sources further claimed that Ramjee's term at KPT had ended in January this year, and has been on extension for six months, which ends in July, post which he is scheduled to be deputed at the Border Security Force (BSF). Ramjee, however, could not be reached for a comment.

In his petition, Bhaty has alleged that Ramjee and other officials of KPT have favoured a private company that is involved in dredging at Kandla. Bhaty's counsel, Dilip K Joshi told Business Standard that the corruption started when KPT sold off one of its dredging barges to a private company. "While the barge was sold off on grounds that it was non-fucntional, the same company which bought it, started dredging the Kandla channel using it. The firm, thereafter raised bills of more than Rs 1,000 crore."

He further noted that Bhaty raised his voice against this scam, and complained to Government of India's Chief Vigilance Commissioner in 2011, post which the CVC passed necessary orders to probe into the matter. "Eventually,KPT had to agree that there was indeed a scam," Joshi alleged.

Ramjee took charge as the CVC in January 2012. The case was handed over to Ramjee, and according to Bhaty he downsized the recoveries to Rs 100 crore, thereby participating in the scam.

Dredging is done regularly at ports to keep the channel free from silt and maintain the necessary depth, so that ships can sail freely.