Mumbai: On June 15, the office of Maharashtra Women and Children Development Minister Pankaja Munde received a letter from Ahmednagar Zilha Parishad president Manjushree Gund complaining about the quality of chikki distributed to tribal students under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
In her complaint, Gund mentioned that the chikki was contaminated with clay. Gund did not know that what she had reported was just the tip of the corruption iceberg.
In what may be called the first scam of the Devendra Fadnavis led BJP-Shiv Sena government, it has come to light that Munde — who did not respond to calls and texts when asked to comment on the allegations — had cleared the purchase of several items such as chikki, mats, dishes and books by flouting the rules, at a cost of Rs 206 crore. All purchases were cleared on the same day, February 13, through 24 Government Resolutions (GR) that were hurriedly issued — a record in the State’s administration. Express has in its possession the documents pertaining to the rules and their violations by Munde, a first time minister from BJP.
According to the rules, any government purchase above Rs 3 lakh has to be done through e-tendering. Fadnavis has banned purchases through the rate contract system, in which material is purchased after negotiations on its rate.
Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar confirmed the rule and added, “I have clearly instructed that any purchase above Rs 1 lakh must be completed by inviting tenders.”
Workbooks for students were bought at a cost of Rs 5.6 crore from a Navi Mumbai-based firm, Jagatguru Printing Press. However, the payment cheque was issued to its owner Bhanudas Tekawade in his personal capacity and not in the firm’s account.
The ICDS Commissioner Vinita Singal had approved purchase of water filters from a Nashik-based company, Everest, at Rs 4,500 per unit. Munde raised the cost per unit to Rs 5,200.
Munde ignored the fact that the firm, Everest, did not have its own manufacturing plant and it had outsourced the water filters from different companies, a violation of terms and conditions.
Two GRs were issued for purchasing the same material — Growth Monitoring Machine used to weigh malnourished children.
Two contractors, Sai Hightech Products and Nitiraj Engineers, both from north Maharashtra, were awarded the contract at a cost of Rs 6 crore and Rs 18 crore respectively.
A contractor had pegged cost of a medicine kit at Rs 720 per kit. However, there was a provision of Rs 500 only per kit. Hence Munde allowed the contractor to reduce the number of tablets in the kit so that he could provide it at Rs 500.
The contaminated chikki is a classic example of how Munde flouted the rules. Then Central Purchase Office Commissioner Radhika Rastogi had denied permission in April 2013 to purchase chikki from a Sindhudurg-based NGO,
Suryakanta Sahkari Mahila Sanstha. Rastogi had ordered the department to float a tender as the purchase cost was Rs 37 crore, much more than the Rs 3 lakh ceiling for a tender. Interestingly, Munde gave the contract to the same NGO for supplying chikki at a cost of Rs 80 crore despite the details of the NGO’s manufacturing plant not being known.
A senior official in the State’s seat of power, Mantralaya, said that it was a case of nepotism. “The hurriedness in awarding 24 contracts on the same day without following rules clearly indicates that the minister wanted to choose her favourite contractors. It may not fall into the category of scams but the purpose behind violation of rules definitely tells somethings has gone wrong,” he said.
Munde’s rise in the State politics is attributed to her father, late BJP leader Gopinath Munde. She recently stoked a big controversy by saying that she was the CM in people’s mind.
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