For all government tenders (and indeed those from PSUs), the magic to get selected for coveted works is to emerge as lowest bidder. Of course there are other considerations like experience in work, ability to execute large orders, and so on. But everything pales on the face of lowest quote.
This means a company which has just about needed qualification compared to vast experience of other bidders can easily qualify on the strength of lowest quote. This is not what we normally do in our daily life.
For example, we’ll not buy stale fish just because the price is low. But once a person sits in the chair in government offices to decide on awarding contracts, he turns to none else but the L1 bidder.
The effect for this L1 obsession is for everyone to see. Kolkata roads for example present a mess putting everyone into untold inconvenience, including the person who awards the contract. The same is true for other civic amenities as well.
I’ve just been looking at the newspaper report (TT, Apr 11) on a conclave of the Council of Architecture that took place in the city yesterday. There are many opinions as to what the reasons are for rendering the city’s housing projects into faceless, look-alike boxes.
Partha Ranjan Das, the urban designer cum architect, puts it succinctly:
They will call a tender and go for L1 or the lowest, or in the case of Dankuni, go for the highest financial bidder (DLF) and accept whatever they have to offer by way of design solution.
Clearly, the malaise is deep. Quality as a concept is firmly on the backseat. What matters more is something to show, instead of some ‘quality’ to show.
No way out? Fortunately, yes. The government needs to decide the tenders in 2 steps. First come the technical bids with no indication of price. Only those bids that qualify in the screening get to submit the financial bids. At this stage, the L1 bidder can be chosen, or a higher but eminently qualified bidder can be asked to match prices of L1 bidder.
Don’t the people who man the concerned positions know of this? Sure they do (in fact in case of high-cost projects this is the step followed), but seldom choose so for the fear of prolonged tender process.
What is conveniently forgotten is that though it takes time, 2-stage tendering will not only provide value to work done but also curtail corruption to a large extent. If not, the curse of L1 will not leave us in peace any time sooner.