Inclusion of Dutch firm in shortlist for Rebuild Kerala consultancy raises eyebrows

Inclusion of Dutch firm in shortlist for Rebuild Kerala consultancy raises eyebrows
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

The Kerala government is planning to award a consultancy contract under the Rebuild Kerala project to an overseas engineering consultancy that had, according to Malayala Manorama, reportedly provided assistance for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's visit to the Netherlands.

The CM has approved the recommendation to reinstate the company, called Royal HaskoningDHV, as a consultant after it was earlier excluded from the tender process because it did not meet the eligibility requirements.

The tender to appoint consultants to provide technical assistance for the Rebuild Kerala project was issued last year. Twelve companies had applied in response, of which four companies were selected for the second phase of the tender process. Meanwhile, the chief minister visited the Netherlands.

During his visit, the final list of consultants was released by including Royal HaskoningDHV, a company in the Netherlands, and Tractebel, a leading engineering services and consultancy firm based in Brussels, Belgium. The two firms were part of a Round Table discussion that Pinarayi Vijayan attended to study the work undertaken to address issues related to floods and ports in Netherlands.

The company Royal HaskoningDHV has dismissed reports that it played a role in organising Pinarayi Vijayan's visit to the Netherlands. The Chief Minister too has, in one of his press conference, mentioned that it was indeed the Indian Embassy here that made all the arrangements.

The Kerala Water Authority, which is implementing the project, had earlier opposed the inclusion of the two companies. However, in March, Vishwas Mehta, who was then the additional chief secretary in charge of the Water Resources Department, noted in the file that these companies should also be included on the final list.

His note warned that removing Royal HaskoningDHV would affect diplomatic relations with the Netherlands. In June, the chief minister approved the recommendation to include the Dutch firm. However, the Water Department has again submitted the file to the chief minister seeking more clarification in this regard.

Meanwhile, the company Royal HaskoningDHV has claimed that the consortium comprising of it and 3 other companies had extend the validity of their Expression of Interest (EOI) till December 2019 after their initial tender at the request of the State. The company informed that the consortium is yet to recieve a response.

Rebuild Kerala is a state government initiative that was launched soon after the epochal 2018 floods. As the name suggests, the project aims to restore various sectors of the state that were crippled or destroyed in the calamity.

In May 2019 the chief minister had toured the Netherlands to see at first hand the famed Dutch flood control methods. He had also visited the UK, France and Switzerland during the fortnight trip.

Dutch firm's response

In response to the story, the Dutch firm Royal HaskoningDHV has clarified that the arrangements and organisation of Pinarayi Vijayan's visit to the Netherlands were made by the Indian Embassy in the Netherlands, and that the firm had taken part in a Round Table  along with more than 30 other Dutch companies on the invitation of the Dutch Employees Federation VNO-NCW.

It also clarified that for the open tender call put out by the Rebuild Kerala Initiative, it was a consortium of three companies comprising of Royal HaskoningDHV that submitted their Expression of Interest. It also added that the validity of the same was extended till December 2019 at the request of the Kerala government. The consortium is still waiting for a response from the Rebuild Kerala Initiative.

Royal HaskoningDHV also dismissed reports that it was initially rejected by the Water Resources Department for its lack of experience in India. The firm clarified that it has been working in India for more than 50 years and has substantial experience in water and maritime projects in India and globally.

(This story was edited recently to incorporate the response of the Dutch firm Royal HaskoningDHV)

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