Contractor accuses L&T of fraud in World Bank-aided tsunami project

Story by  IANS | Posted by  shaista fatima • 7 Months ago
A representational image
A representational image



A Larsen & Toubro group entity, L&T Construction, Chennai, which is building the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, has been accused of perpetrating an alleged fraud by its consortium contractor, while implementing Indias World Bank-aided tsunami alert projects in two eastern states.

The WB-funded project -- first in India as part of a global initiative for safety in coastal regions -- was intended to sound an advance warning to the disaster management authorities and people living on shoresides of any impending tsunami threats following earthquakes.

The backdrop was the massive devastation caused in many countries, including south India, by the deadly tsunami triggered after the Japan earthquake on March 11, 2011. The multi-crore rupees prestigious pilot project -- Alert Siren Systems, part of a comprehensive Early Warning & Dissemination System (EWDS) -- came up in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, around 2018, touching the Bay of Bengal.

In February 2016, the Central PSU, Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd (TCIL), appointed L&T Construction as the main contractor, along with Telegrafia of Slovakia and its sole distributor for the sophisticated EWDS, Spectral India, New Delhi, to execute the project within nine months.

Spectral India named a representative, Pankaj Agrawal, to handle the routine work on its behalf with both Telegrafia and L&T Construction, and initially everything apparently worked smoothly. "Somewhere, without our knowledge, Telegrafia quietly bypassed us to deal directly with Agrawal through his entity, Stalworth Systems, Mumbai. Later, Stalworth Systems claimed it is the India partner of Telegrafia," Spectral India Chairman B.C. Yesudas said.

Owing to the unholy dispute, the work on the critical WB project languished as Yesudas sacked Agrawal and pursued the matter with Telegrafia and L&T Construction, which bagged the contract to build the Lord Ram Temple in UP, around 2019/2020. As the EWDS work halted, on April 2, 2018, the L&T shot off a stinker to Telegrafia, expressing surprise' at the Slovakian company's agreement with Stalworth Systems of which it had no inkling.

"The bid document submitted by L&T qualifies only Telegrafia and Spectral India... Stalworth (Agrawal) came into the project as an authorised representative of Spectral India, to take the order and act on behalf of Spectral India," pointed out K. Rajaram, Executive Vice-President of L&T Construction.

Rajaram also complained to Telegrafia as to how Stalworth System's Agrawal had taken advance payments at all stages in the project, and yet was spreading canards to extract more money. "He is not cooperating with our site staff, not involving them in commissioning activities, not following any QA procedures. Further, Stalworth, under silly pretexts, has abandoned the (Odisha) project since January 26, 2018," Rajaram said.

As Spectral India had terminated the services of Stalworth Systems, L&T Constructions said it was not possible to have any further dialogue with them, "nor we can hope to getting the (Odisha) project completed by Stalworth". Rajaram urged Telegrafia to advise Spectral India to take over the Odisha project to help L&T Construction complete and hand it over to the government.

"Later, we were requested by the Odisha government to help out at the last-minute before top VVIPs from the Centre and state arrived for the inauguration. We obliged them as our national duty. However, till date, L&T has not cleared our dues of around Rs 20 crore -- though we saved their public reputation at a critical juncture," rued Yesudas.

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Despite repeated attempts made by IANS, L&T Construction, Telegrafia and Stalworth Systems' Agrawal failed to respond to the issues raised by Spectral India. Undeterred, Yesudas lodged a complaint in a New Delhi court against the trio of L&T, Telegrafia and Stalworth Systems, but he is mystified why the L&T -- which had exposed the mischievous role of Stalworth Systems to the Slovakian company -- failed to take independent action against them and also clear Spectral India's lawful dues.

"In August 2022, I had written to L&T to clear Special India's full outstanding of Rs 20 crore, plus Rs 200 crore as compensation for the loss of goodwill and forfeiting several other similar projects due to their mischief perpetrated in connivance with Telegrafia and Agrawal of Stalworth Systems," Yesudas added.

Oblivious of the corporate mini-tsunami raging in the background, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik inaugurated the state's EWDS on October 29, 2017, in the presence of top officials from L&T, Spectral India, etc., while the Andhra Pradesh project also took off in a low-key manner.