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RTI’d minutes of BCI reveal how multi-crore bar exam contract was awarded to mystery 5th bidder ITeS Horizon #longread

ITES Noida office 2012
ITES Noida office 2012

The Bar Council of India’s (BCI) 2012 meeting minutes regarding the All India Bar Exam (AIBE) obtained by Legally India under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, have revealed details of the tender process by which the contract to conduct the fourth and subsequent AIBEs was awarded to NCR-based software outsourcing company ITeS Horizon Pvt Ltd.

Click here to read full BCI minutes (38 pages) on the AIBE here now.

In 2013 Legally India and Mint published an investigation and detailed feature about the BCI’s difficulties in conducting the first three AIBEs and the then-upcoming fourth one.

At the time, Legally India was unable to reach ITeS for comment on any of the contact details listed on its website or elsewhere, and could not find any office at ITeS’ listed addresses, with its Noida address apparently having been recently abandoned as of December 2012 (pictured above).

Since then, ITeS has carried out the previous four AIBEs and will hold the eighth on 24 May. Some of the issues since then have included:

This is a story explaining, through the BCI’s own minutes, how that multi-crore contract was awarded to ITeS.

The BCI's June 2012 tender notice
The BCI's June 2012 tender notice

BCI calls for assistance

Around 25 June 2012, the BCI called for tenders from agencies to conduct the next AIBE [link to cached copy of call for tender]. Applications were to be received by the BCI on 30 June 2012 with a demand draft of Rs 2,000.

According to minutes of a BCI meeting dated 28 July and 30 July 2012, four contractors had appeared and bid for the job: Aspiring Minds, Rainmaker, Pearson Vue and Manupatra Information Solutions.

However, one printed line at the bottom of the 30 July minutes, slightly out of alignment with the rest of the text, stated that “subsequently ITeS Horizon Pvt Ltd was represented by Ms Rubab Khan”. ITeS chief executive officer (CEO) Khan’s signature and the 30 July 2012 date appears on the minutes:

Minutes dated 30 July 2012 Comprehensive minutes (click to enlarge)
Minutes dated 30 July 2012 Comprehensive minutes (click to enlarge)

On 1 August 2012 Legally India had reported an authoritative BCI source saying that only four companies had applied for the tender. However, on 7 September 2012 BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra had told Legally India that those four companies had been rejected and the contract was awarded to ITeS instead as the BCI had decided to carry out a larger share of work internally.

A more comprehensive set of minutes prepared after 30 July 2012 includes the initial bids of all five bidders, including ITeS, as well as the revised bid rates that were submitted by the vendors between 30 July and 2 August 2012.

Comprehensive minutes prepared after 30 July 2012 (click to enlarge)
Comprehensive minutes prepared after 30 July 2012 (click to enlarge)

Historical price points

Rainmaker had conducted the first three AIBEs in 2011 and 2012 under then-BCI chairman Gopal Subramanium, from which the company had generated Rs 4.8 crore in revenue at a rate of Rs 900 per candidate, having created and provided printed study materials.

In 2010 Rainmaker had been awarded the contract without a formal tender held by the BCI according to one RTI response, while another RTI response by the BCI in 2011 contradicted this and stated that Tata Consultancy Services, Sify and Imaging Solutions had been approached for proposals.

The first three AIBEs suffered from delays and several legal challenges in the  courts, but were eventually held on March 2011, July 2011, and January 2012.

Under the arrangement with Rainmaker, the BCI received just over Rs 2 crore, or 30 per cent of total revenues.

In the new July 2012 tender, the cheapest revised bids came from Rainmaker, Pearson Vue, followed by ITeS.

Manupatra quoted the lowest amount for repeat candidates for whom no materials would have to be prepared.

Revised 30 July 2012 bids (click to enlarge)
Revised 30 July 2012 bids (click to enlarge)

Rainmaker bid

In the 2012 tender according to the second set of minutes, on 2 August 2012 Rainmaker offered to conduct the AIBE for Rs 500 for any candidate if no hardcopy preparatory materials were required to be sent out. Its initial bid of 30 July pitched with rates of Rs 900 for first time test takers for whom printed materials were required, and Rs 500 for repeat candidates who had failed a previous exam (and would therefore not require additional preparation materials).

Rainmaker said in the tender according to the minutes that it had an annual turnover of Rs 4 crore and would conduct the exam by 15 October 2012.

Full disclosure: Rainmaker is an advertiser on Legally India.

Pearson Vue bid

Pearson Vue is a company that runs the LSAT-India law school admissions test and other competitive exams globally and in India, claiming a Rs 55,000 crore global revenue according to the minutes recording its bid.

Pearson offered to conduct the 2012 bar exam without study materials at a cost of Rs 545 per candidate in 2012, increasing the fee to Rs 595 per candidate by 2013, and Rs 645 per candidate by 2014.

With study materials, the company had initially quoted Rs 670 per candidate. It had said it would conduct the exam within three months.

Full disclosure: Pearson Vue has been an advertiser on Legally India.

Aspiring Minds bid

Aspiring Minds – a company that generates “over 22 crores in the field of assessment” according to its bid, had quoted Rs 675 for fresh candidates and Rs 500 for repeaters in its initial bid and does not appear to have submitted a subsequent bid.

It is not clear from the minutes whether Aspiring Minds also submitted a quote with study materials.

Manupatra bid

For first-time candidates, legal judgment database and publisher Manupatra quoted Rs 850 for the first exam, Rs 800 for the second exam and Rs 700 for the third exam, including study materials.

For repeat candidates it quoted Rs 400 for repeat candidates without materials. Manupatra said it had a total turnover of Rs 22 crores including its publishing arm Universal Legal.

ITeS bid

According to the minutes, ITeS had initially on 30 July 2012 quoted Rs 675 for new candidates and Rs 500 for repeat candidates using the old model test papers as preparatory materials, or Rs 695 per candidate if it had to provide printed study materials.

That quote was revised by ITeS, with the minutes adding that its director Khan “personally appeared and expressed her willingness to conduct the exam, saying that she can run her office in the premises of Bar Council of India itself; it would be Bar Council of India which shall spread its name, ITES shall only be managing the exam in transparent and fair manner.”

ITeS revised rates were:

  • Rs 600 per candidate for a fresh candidate and Rs 500 per candidate for a repeating candidate, without the provision of study material.
  • With study material it quoted Rs 650 per candidate.

According to the minutes, ITeS said that it:

  • had previously “conducted exam of the Global Open University”,
  • had an annual turnover of “Around Rs 5.4 crores”, and
  • could conduct the coming AIBE “within 2 months from the date of signing of MOU”.

And the winner is…

According to the BCI’s 26 August 2012 minutes (page 14 of the bundle of minutes), the members had interviewed representatives from the five bidders, and “after taking into consideration the interest of the candidates, the fairness and impartiality of the exam, the Committee has come to the conclusion that M/s ITES Horizon Pvt Ltd is the most suitable agency”.

According to the minutes, ITeS won the contract because:

representatives of M/s Aspiring Minds, M/s Pearson Vue and M/s Manupatra Information Solutions Pvt Ltd. flatly refused to give a place to a representative/staff of Bar Council of India for proper coordination and answer the queries of the candidates which has been a big problem for the Council during the last two years. They declined to have their offices in the premised of Bar Council of India even for the purpose of liaisoning

and

M/s ITES Horizon Pvt Ltd has agreed to set-up its one small liaisoning office in the premises of Bar Council of India for the purpose of proper coordination with the candidates and its employees. Moreover the rate quoted by it appears to be reasonable and practical. The proper liaisoning between Bar Council of India and the agency was felt necessary during the last two years.

BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra, who was also chairman in 2012 during the tender, was authorized to draft and finalise the memorandum of understanding with ITES so that “the next exam could be conducted at the earliest possible time” and for Mishra to supervise the performance” of ITES after every exam and “then to take proper decision in the matter”.

The resolution fixed the date for the next AIBE at 25 November 2012.

Mishra did not respond to an email, of Friday 15 May 2015, seeking comment on whether that condition to the contract had been communicated to all bidders ahead of the tender.

The 26 August minutes record the BCI’s apparent displeasure that Rainmaker had reduced its rates:

It is surprising how this agency [Rainmaker] which was charging Rs 900/- [in the first three AIBEs] has gone down to Rs 650/- suddenly, while the Hon’ble Members asked about this, the representative kept mum.

The Council had terminated the contract with M/s Rainmaker on 18th May, 2012 itself and it was decided not to renew the contract and to invite open tender.

The minutes also noted that the Rs 2,000 demand drafts deposited by Rainmaker, Manupatra, Aspiring Minds and Pearson Vue had been accepted, with ITeS having submitted an “account payee cheque”.

ITeS CEO Khan did not respond to an email seeking comment yesterday on why the company was selected, despite not having been the lowest bidder or having had the most experience. Emails to what used to be its official email address, , bounced and no response was received via the ‘contact us’ form on its website.

Scarce time

Those meeting minutes recorded that the BCI would generally charge new candidates Rs 2,000, of which Rs 550 would be allocated to state bar councils, Rs 650 to ITeS Horizon, and Rs 800 to the BCI. The BCI and the bar councils would spend these proceeds “for welfare of lawyers”.

But the BCI also resolved that due to the already delayed process, no study materials would need to be supplied for the upcoming 4th AIBE and first-time candidates’ fees would therefore be reduced to Rs 1,900.

ITeS would publish five model question banks on the BCI website, but from the 5th AIBE, ITeS “shall supply the study material to those candidates who are desirous for that”.

Agreement reached

On 31 August 2012 Mishra and ITeS Horizon CEO Khan entered into a “binding memorandum of understanding (MOU)” to conduct the AIBE, which would expire on 30 November 2014 and which was disclosed under the RTI.

Study materials

The binding MOU entered into stated that:

ITES Horizon shall be responsible for all technical aspects of the Qualifying Examination, including the next Examinations, which shall include creation of testing content, printing and collection of examination papers, registration of candidates desirous of appearing in the examinations, creation and despatch of materials to aid exam candidates in preparing for the Qualifying Examination (“Preparatory Materials”), complete logistics and infrastructure requirements (including invigilation, confidentiality and support services) for the Qualifying Examination [emphasis added]

In line with the 26 August 2012 resolution due to the delayed process, no study materials would have to be supplied by ITeS for the upcoming 4th AIBE set for 25 November 2012.

The BCI only officially communicated to candidates via its website on 2 December 2012, exactly one week before the exam date, that no study materials would be issued for the 4th AIBE.

Other than a syllabus, no preparatory materials have been created or made available to candidates by ITeS in any of the subsequent AIBEs held since the signing of the MOU.

In March 2015, the Central Information Commission ordered the BCI to proactively post all past AIBE papers on its website after a complaint by a lawyer.

Frequency

The MOU stated:

ITES Horizon undertakes to conduct the Qualifying Examination at least bi-annually (proposed to be held in April and November of each calendar year) from January 1, 2012 onwards to November 2014.

In this regard, ITES Horizon undertakes that the Preparatory Material for each of the examinations would be despatched at least four (4) calendar weeks prior to the date of the relevant examination from AIBE 5.

… ITES Horizon also undertakes to hold exam on-line thirce in a year from the year 2013.

The fourth AIBE was eventually held by ITeS and the BCI on 9 December 2012 – more than three months after the signing of the MOU (having been postponed once from 25 November) and 11 months since the previous exam.

AIBE VI was postponed by a month to January 2014; AIBE VII was postponed twice in 2014; 2015’s AIBE VIII was postponed by two months to 24 May.

In 2013 only a single AIBE was held in August.

In 2014, two exams were held in January and September.

2015’s eighth AIBE will be held on 21 May.

Contrary to the undertaking in the MOU, no online exams have ever been held.

Costs

The fees payable by candidates in the first three AIBEs conducted by Rainmaker were Rs 1,300, including printed preparation materials.

For the fourth and fifth exam under ITeS, the fees increased by around 50 per cent to Rs 1,900 per candidate.

At AIBE 6 in 2014, those costs were hiked to Rs 2,500 for first-time test takers, despite no printed or other materials being supplied to candidates.

  When? Months since previous AIBE Candidates Fees / first-time  candidate (Rs) Max contractor revenues (approx Rs)
AIBE 1 (Rainmaker) Mar 2011   19,802 1,300 1.78 cr
AIBE 2 (RM) July 2011 4 12,158 1,300 1.09 cr
AIBE 3 (RM) Jan 2012 5 24,844 1,300 2.24 cr
AIBE 4 (ITeS) Dec 2012 11 35,281* 1,900 2.12 cr
AIBE 5 (ITeS) Aug 2013 8 23,350* 1,900 1.40 cr
AIBE 6 (ITeS) Jan 2014 5 Unknown 2,500 Unknown
AIBE 7 (ITeS) Sep 2014 8 Unknown 2,500 Unknown
AIBE 8 (ITeS) May 2015 7 Unknown 2,500 Unknown

*Source: RTI filed by Kush Kalra

ITeS AIBE test prep plans

Clause (g) of the MOU stated that ITeS would have the exclusive licence from the BCI to start a chargeable AIBE test preparation course (page 27):

ITES Horizon shall have the exclusive right to publish official test preparatory question papers and model answers for the Qualifying Examination (“Test Prep Series”), both electronically and in print, which shall include the right to create any electronic interface, software programmes, and hardware-linked solutions for the same.

ITES Horizon shall, in writing, enter into a mutually agreed upon revenue share with the BCI prior to the release of the Test Prep Series. BCI agrees and permits ITES Horizon to use the phrase “Accredited and Approved by the Bar Council of India”, or variants of the same, along with the logo and name of the BCI and ITES Horizon on Test Pres. (sic) Series.

A later clause states that “the copyright in the Test Prep series shall belong exclusively with ITES Horizon”.

ITeS and the BCI never started a test preparation series.

Full disclosure: Legally India has an interest in independent bar exam preparation service http://www.barhacker.in

BCI Website redesign

The MOU stated:

ITES Horizon is also willing to undertake the responsibility for the design, creation and content management of the website of the BCI (www.barcouncilofindia.org , the “Website”) and hereby undertakes to launch the revamped website of the BCI in November, 2012, or such other date as agreed upon with the BCI.

The website would be “including an internship format whereby young lawyers can apply for internships electronically to the BCI”.

The BCI website has not been updated since Rainmaker re-launched the barcouncilofindia.org website in June 2010.

Termination

The MOU ended on 30 November 2014 but would be automatically “renewed for additional two year periods on such terms and conditions to be agreed to by the AIBE Committee and ITES Horizon. After every exam, the Chairman shall assess the performance of ITES Horizon and may take necessary action/advice”.

Full disclosure: Pearson Vue and Rainmaker have been or are currently regular advertisers on Legally India.

Legally India has an interest in independent bar exam preparation service http://www.barhacker.in

Bar Council of India (BCI) full minutes on the All India Bar Exam in 2012

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