Maharashtra women and child welfare minister Pankaja Munde has been accused of flouting rules and favouring certain companies in a Rs 206 crore purchase of food items and other materials meant for children in rural and tribal areas. Munde has denied the allegations, saying they were part of a conspiracy to malign her image.
In what is being described as first scam of the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government in Maharashtra, Munde allegedly awarded contracts without following the e-tendering or contract tender system that the rules prescribe.
Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant, who has lodged a complaint against Munde with the Anti-Corruption Bureau, also accused her of nepotism and demanded a thorough probe against the minister and officers from her department.
The women and child welfare department, which receives huge funding from the central government under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, issued as many as 24 government resolutions (GRs) – a state record – on a single day, February 13, 2015, for the purchase of various items.
Among these was a contract to supply chikki, which was allegedly awarded without due process to one Suryakanta Mahila Audyogik Sanstha (SMAS) for a whopping Rs 113 crore. The contract quotes a price of Rs 285 per kg of chikki, even though other firms had allegedly quoted Rs 127 per kg – less than half that amount.
Significantly, the department responsible awarding contracts had opposed giving the chikki contract to SMAS in April 2013. Radhika Rastogi, then industries development commissioner, had categorically said the contract should be awarded only by inviting tenders.
Two other GRs among the 24 were for the purchase of the same items — electronic physio-growth monitors (EPGM), which are used to track the health of malnourished children. Two contractors, Sai Hightech Products and Nitiraj Engineers, both from north Maharashtra, were awarded the contract – for Rs 6 crore and Rs 18 crore, respectively.
In another case, water purifiers were bought for Rs 5,220 per unit despite the fact that the department had fixed the maximum price at Rs 4,500 per unit. The supplier, Everest Industries of Aurangabad, does not even have its own manufacturing unit and was allowed to outsource production.
Responding to the allegations, Munde said she had done nothing wrong. “Funds of Rs 122 crore that had come from the central government under ICDS would have been lapsed had we not taken a quick decision. It was a bold decision for the welfare of children from rural areas. There was no violation of tendering-related norms as only fresh contracts require the tendering process to be followed. The allotment done by us was extension of contracts given by the previous government,” Munde said in a statement from London.
Chief minister Fadnavis did not react to the allegations but Munde’s cabinet colleague and revenue minister Eknath Khadse said, “The rule of e-tendering or contract tendering is applicable only to new contracts. As per my knowledge the contracts given by Munde were not new proposals and there were no irregularities,” he said. However, the opposition Congress insisted that the way the contracts were awarded was in violation of the rules and demanded that Munde resign.
Munde is the daughter and political heir of former deputy chief minister and union minister Gopinath Munde, who died in a road accident in Delhi last year.