Visa provider firm drags MEA to court over outsourcing contract

Visa provider firm drags MEA to court over outsourcing contract

Says ministry has taken a mala fide, arbitrary action

The Ministry of External Affairs is caught in a legal battle, with a private firm providing visa services dragging it to court on charges of “malafide, arbitrary, illegal and biased action” of canceling an outsourcing contract awarded it.

The firm, BLS International Services Ltd, which is providing outsourcing services in 10ten of the country’s diplomatic missions abroad, has filed a petition before the Delhi High Court on Wednesday, seeking a direction to the ministry to quash the cancellation of the contract awarded to it. The petition is likely to come up for hearing before the high court on Monday.

As the lowest bidder of three companies that bid for the outsourcing contract, the firm had won the contract to provide visa facilitation services at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC and six other consulates in the United States. 

The ministry had floated the mandatory Request for Proposal (RFP) on March 26, this year, to select an Indian agency for giving contract to provide visas and other services at the missions in the US.  The technical bid for RFP was opened in May in which the firm qualified for award of the contract. 

Subsequently, the embassy in Washington informed the firm that it had won the contract and asked it to send its representative to the US for signing of the contract. On June 22 the contract was formally signed between the firm’s director Diwakar Agarwal and counsellor G Balasubramaniam at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC.

In the petition, the firm said that it was shocked to receive a letter from counsellor Balasubramaniam on July 6, informing that the contract was put on hold.

And then on September 11, the firm received another letter from the counsellor, informing that “Competent Authority in the Government of India has decided to cancel the contract.” No reasons were assigned for the cancellation. Curiously, it was also informed that it could bid again in a re-tender soon. 

In between the suspension of the contract and its eventual cancellation, the firm, according to the petition, had approached External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, seeking reasons for withholding execution of the contract as they had already invested and hired manpower to kick start the services at important places in the United States. But, it contended that no replies came from the minister’s office.

The firm has contended that it offered and won the bid to provide visa facilitation services at US$ 6.70 per application as against current service provider Travisa’s charge of US$ 13. Travisa’s contract ends this Sunday.

In the past, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had made adverse observations about irregularities in selecting bids for providing visa services.