Audio kit scam at Mysore Palace comes to fore

Audio kit scam at Mysore Palace comes to fore

Historian alleges Palace Board suffered losses amounting to Rs 2.94 cr

A local historian, in a complaint to the Karnataka Lokayukta, has claimed that the Mysore Palace Board has suffered a loss of crores of rupees over the supply of informative transmitters to tourists visiting the Palace.

In a complaint filed on Saturday, historian Nanjaraj Urs claimed that the former deputy director of Mysore Palace Board, P V Avaradi, had colluded with Narrowcasters India Private Ltd, over the awarding of contracts for Handy Audio Research Kits (HARK) — hand-held audio transmitters intended to benefit tourists visiting the Palace by providing location-specific information.

Urs claimed the contracts have resulted in the Board suffering a loss of Rs 2.94 crore from November 2008 — when the system was first implemented — to March 2013.

The irregularities first came to light after Avaradi retired.  The present director, T S Subramanya, submitted a report to the government in this regard. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has directed the Mysore deputy commissioner to probe the issue, sources said.

Early violations

According to Urs, the violation of norms began while inviting tenders to supply the devices. “It was necessary to invite a Technical Expertise tender for supplying such devices. On the contrary, a civil tender was invited,” he said.

According to the terms and conditions of the original tender, the Palace Board did not have to bear the expenses for the software developed for HARK. However, this was later violated by the company as Avaradi included these expenses in an additional tender, which cost the Palace Board Rs 30 lakh. In addition, Narrowcasters was the only company to respond to the tender for HARKs. Regulations demand that officials should call for another tender in case there is only a single respondent to the project.

Furthermore, after the payment of the tender amount to the company, according to Section 10 C of the additional tender notification, “The rights to the scripts and recordings shall be owned by Mysore Palace Board,” for the term of the contract or till any future contract renewals. However, this clause was amended to offer joint ownership by the Board and Narrowcasters.

“Despite buying the chip by paying Rs 29.90 lakh, the Palace Board has only joint ownership of the scripts and recordings,” Urs said.

In addition, the Board does not have the right to update software in HARK devices till the contract term ends in 2018. While maintenance of HARK must be done by the company, no arrangements to do so have been made. The Board is forced to repair and maintain these devices and bear the expenses because of an understanding between Avaradi and the company.

Avaradi, however, has denied any role in the irregularities. He said the project was implemented after clearance by the chief secretary, who is the chairman of the Mysore Palace Board.

Large profits

HARK is compulsory for foreign tourists visiting the palace. While the entrance ticket costs Rs 100, there is an additional Rs 100 charge for the HARK. “Of this, Rs 80 is being paid to Narrowcasters. When details were sought under the Right to Information Act, the Board responded by stating that it was part of the agreement,” Urs said in his complaint.

During the last five years, some 3.3 lakh foreign tourists visited the Mysore Palace, resulting in an estimated Rs 2.69 crore going to the company’s coffers. The company has also allegedly defaulted in paying a service tax of Rs 57 lakh to the government.

“By the time the tender term ends, the company will have a profits of over Rs six crore,” Urs said and urged that Avaradi and the former DC of Mysore, Manivannan, be held directly responsible for the scam.

Urs alleged that Avaradi was appointed the regional head of Narrowcasters India Pvt Ltd on March 1, 2012, following his retirement — which is in violation of the Karnataka Civil Services Act. Avaradi has denied this charge.