Imphal, Sept. 4: Seduced by the market potential of online lotteries, another cash-strapped state of the Northeast today took the gamble of entering into a contentious agreement with a private lotto company.
The Manipur Cabinet approved the proposal to start an online lottery in collaboration with M.W.C. Market Services Ltd and revive the conventional lottery system after a prolonged debate on the transparency of the deal. Several ministers had objected to the agreement, saying it smacked of “shady dealings”.
A senior minister told The Telegraph that he suspected some people of taking huge amounts of money from the company to see the deal through. He said Zee Television had offered the state government a greater share of profits than M.W.C. Market Services.
“I wonder why the government chose this company over Zee Television despite being offered less money,” he said.
M.W.C. Market Services had moved court when its agreement with the previous government was cancelled by the administration during President’s rule. Zee Television, too, sued the government for awarding the contract without floating open tenders. The litigation is pending in court.
Chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh tried hard to convince his Cabinet colleagues that the agreement would benefit Manipur, but not many toed his line. At the end of the meeting, most Cabinet members admitted that they had reluctantly endorsed the deal, which grants M.W.C. Market Services exclusive rights to conduct online and conventional lotteries in Manipur for 10 years.
Conventional lotteries had been banned in Manipur in the wake of a scam during the Nipamacha Singh government’s term in office.
As per the approved agreement, M.W.C. Market Services will pay Manipur Rs 707 crore, including Rs 50 crore as “social-service charges”, over a period of 10 years.
One of the ministers who are dissatisfied with the agreement said the government had committed several mistakes in striking the deal. “I do not know how the advocate-general pleaded the state’s case before the arbitrator. The government seems to have surrendered before the M.W.C. Market Services. We made our stand on the deal clear to the chief minister.”
M.W.C. Market Services had signed the first agreement, for a period of 20 years, with the erstwhile Radhabinod Koijam ministry. That was on April 5, 2001. The company had then offered to pay the state a minimum of Rs 15 crore per annum or one per cent of the turnover, whichever was higher.