Bidders Go to Court Over Lack of Transparency in EESL’s Solar Pumps Auction

Last week, the Delhi High Court directed the Government of India to respond to a petition filed by domestic solar manufacturers, who have requested the termination of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) tender, floated by the Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), in January 2021.

EESL had issued a tender for an off-grid solar photovoltaic water pumping system in select states on a pan-India basis under Component-B of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy’s (MNRE) PM-KUSUM program. In all, 317,975 solar pumps were slated for installation across 30 states and five union territories.

According to the petitioners, EESL has not been transparent during the bidding process as they refused to explain why 30 bids were dropped from the technical bid of the tender. Of these 30 bidders, 12 have filed a petition before the court.

The petitioners who have combined pleas, in this case, include SG Enterprises, V Tech Sunsystems, Australian Premium Solar (India), V Tech Engineers ECE, and VRG Energy.


Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court has asked the respondents (EESL) to file a reply within two weeks, and until then, the bid will not be finalized.

Background

One of the petitioners told Mercom that roughly 87 bids were submitted during the submission round, of which only 65 bids made it to the technical round. According to the petitioner, the EESL canceled 18 bids because they had not submitted the hard copy of the documents.

The tender was made public on January 14, 2021, and stakeholders were asked to file their questions within five days. The petitioners have alleged that the EESL issued clarifications on the queries on February 12, 2021, and asked bidders to submit the bid within five days on February 17, 2021. However, the EESL website crashed, and they once again extended the deadline by another two days.

This time, however, there was no indication regarding the opening of the technical bids. On March 3, 2021, through industry sources, we learned that 65 bids cleared the technical round. The petitioner has alleged that there was no response from EESL, despite several attempts to communicate.

The petitioner further alleges that the price bid was opened a day before the declaration of the technical bid without even declaring the disqualified bids.

On May 20, 35 bids that cleared the technical round were announced. Interestingly, those who were rejected included some large players who had earlier developed the PM-KUSUM projects, including Premier Solar, Gautam Solar, and Claro solar. These companies have already installed several solar pumps but were still rejected by EESL.

When the petitioner emailed EESL regarding the status of their bids, they received the reply that their bids are ‘non-responsive.’ When the manufacturers contacted MNRE, they were told that there could be some issues with their bids but refused to offer further clarifications.

The petitioners have alleged that the EESL has not explained the reasons behind the disqualification of their technical bids. The website now shows that the tender has been closed as of May 21, 2021, and without explaining reasons for disqualification, the price bids were opened.

According to EESL’s tender document, the list of bidders who have cleared the technical bid will be listed, and the reasons for the acceptance or rejection of each bid will be notified. If there are further grievances, the bidders can approach the EESL with their queries, and once all queries are cleared, the price bid will be opened.

The petitioners have alleged that none of these protocols were followed by EESL.

Moreover, the petitioner has claimed that all bidders can see each other’s bids on the online platform, but the same practice has not been followed by EESL.

The petitioner told Mercom, “If the EESL had to favor certain companies, it would have made more sense to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with them. The case was filed on May 29, 2021, while the tender was closed on May 21, 2021. For eight days, we ran from pillar to post but did not receive any answers. If it were a few companies that were disqualified, then it would not be an issue, but 30 companies were rejected.”

Component B under the KUSUM program involves the installation of 1.75 million standalone solar-powered agriculture pumps.

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