CAG pulls up TN Higher Education Dept on data SIM cards distribution to college students

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has pulled up the Tamil Nadu government’s Higher Education Department on “infructuous expenditure” on procurement of data SIM cards under the free distribution of data SIM card scheme to college students during Covid pandemic.

The non-adherence to the original decision while framing rules for the scheme of free distribution of data SIM cards by the department, amending tender conditions to the advantage of the supplier and delaying implementation of the scheme resulted in infructuous expenditure of ₹4.93 crore on excess procurement of the cards and avoidable expenditure of ₹3.46 crore. This was due to the non-synchronisation of data SIM card validity with the academic calendar, the audit observed.

The report of CAG (Compliance Audit) for the year ended March 31, 2022 tabled in the Tamil Nadu Assembly on Wednesday says the scheme was introduced to facilitate students to attend online classes conducted by the colleges during the Covid pandemic. The State government launched the scheme to benefit the students studying in government schools and government-aided arts and science graduates, polytechnic colleges/engineering colleges and students studying in self-financing institutions who were availing scholarships.

The State government in January 2021 accorded administrative sanction to procure 9.69 lakh data SIM cards for supply to students through Electronic Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd. A sum of ₹43.16 crore was released to Elcot in March 2021 to implement the scheme.

Elcot placed orders through an open tender in January on four network service providers — BSNL, Bharti Airtel, Reliance jio and Vodafone for the supply of 9.69 lakh data SIM cards. BSNL was the lowest bidder and agreed to match the price of ₹92 per month per card.

The CAG noted that as of April 2022, a total of 1.10 lakh cards remained undistributed with the nodal officers/colleges. The sampled colleges stated that this was due to the lockdown, and students did not return to colleges to collect the cards.

‘No action taken’

The State government in January 2023 accepted the audit observation on non-delivery of the activated data SIM cards and stated they came to know about this issue only after being pointed out by the audit. However, no action was proposed to remedy the lapses on the part of the authorities responsible, the report noted.

The CAG recommended that the government should direct Elcot to immediately refund ₹3.26 crore retained by it.

The auditor pulled up the Department of Home, Prohibition and Excise stating that the non-devolution of fire service functions as per the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, hampered the prevention of fire incidents. In Tamil Nadu, 17 of the envisaged 18 functions have been devolved to municipal bodies with varied responsibilities but the fire service function has been devolved to the urban local bodies.

Pulling up the Social Welfare and Women Empowerment Department, the audit noted that incorrect adoption of gold rate and forex rate in the procurement of gold coins for marriage assistance schemes of the State government had resulted in avoidable additional expenditure of ₹2.22 crore.

The Audit noted that the failure of Commissioner of Handlooms and Textiles to notice and prevent the bid rigging by tenderers and the failure of Director of Elementary Education to adequately monitor the implementation of the scheme resulted in an an avoidable excess expenditure of ₹4.81 crore and blocking of ₹33.23 crore in bank account.

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