Former Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on corruption radar for allegedly accepting bribe from US firm


By Shamim Zakaria

Assam’s former state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is under the corruption scanner following reports of a US firm bribing Indian officials in order to win tenders for two major water developmental projects in Goa and Guwahati.

Sarma was looking after the Guwahati Development Department at the time the alleged mismanagement took place. The tender in question is related to the Guwahati Water Supply project, which also received funds under the Japan International Cooperation Scheme.

Louis Berger had on Friday agreed to pay a 17.1-million-dollar fine to be freed of charges that held them guilty of bribing officials in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Kuwait to secure government construction management contracts. This after two of its former executives Richard Hirsch and James McClung, pleaded guilty to the charges brought forward by a US federal court. McClung had formerly been vice-president in charge of the firm’s operations in India and Vietnam.

Bribery payments by the company to an Indian minister to secure a Goa project amounted to $976,630, it is being alleged. Further details in this regard have not been released by the US Department of Justice.

On Sunday, however, Union Defence Minister Manohar Parriker had indicated that two ministers from Goa may indeed have accepted bribes from Louis Berger back in 2010.

Addressing the media to clarify his stance, the former minister of health and education maintained that he was not involved in the alleged mismanagement.

“Though there are reports of some Indian officials who were bribed by the company, I completely deny the allegations around me. I believe the Assam government should closely scrutinize the files and if they find any prime facie evidence, an immediate investigation should be ordered,” said Sarma.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has meanwhile announced an enquiry into the alleged irregularities, which will be conducted by Additional Chief Secretary Shubhas Das. According to the CM, if any prima facie evidence is found, the investigation will be handed over to the CBI.

“If the Chief Minister fails to initiate appropriate and stringent measure in the entire episode, we will be forced to point fingers on the CM,” said Asom Gana Parishad general secretary Durga Das Boro.