Though the BJP sprang to her defence on Wednesday, there could be trouble ahead for Maharashtra’s women and child welfare minister Pankaja Munde, accused of awarding dubious contracts worth Rs 206 crore for food items and other materials meant for children in rural and tribal areas.
On Thursday, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said there would be an inquiry if the quality of materials supplied was found to be sub-standard. Sources said Fadnavis discussed the issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their brief meeting on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the anti-corruption Bureau (ACB) wrote to Sanjay Kumar, principal secretary of the women and child development ministry, asking for his remarks on the allegations against Munde. “His opinion has been sought, following which the course of action will be decided,” said Praveen Dixit, director general of police, ACB. Kumar said his department will submit its reply soon. “We are compiling the information sought by the ACB and will submit it in two to three days,” he said.
The state’s finance department also issued a circular on Thursday, directing government departments to ensure that the prices of goods bought through tenders were in line with prevailing market prices. Copies of the circular were sent to political parties too.
The circular reads: “Departments should first ascertain the market prices of the goods to be purchased through tenders. The prices quoted in the lowest tenders should not be blindly admitted without comparing them with market prices. The purchase committees of the departments should vet the tender prices before allotting contracts.”
Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant, who filed a complaint against Munde with the ACB on Wednesday, questioned the bureau’s decision to write to the principal secretary. “The entire department, including top officials, are involved in the scam. Why should ACB ask for clarification from them,” he asked. Sawant’s complaint included details of 14 alleged irregularities in the contracts awarded by Munde’s ministry.
Meanwhile, the Congress tried to step up the pressure on Munde and the government. Opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil demanded that Munde resign to ensure a fair probe, while former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan demanded a CBI probe into the allegations. Party sources said Congress legislators will stall proceedings of the state legislature and seek Munde’s resignation during the monsoon session, which starts on July 13.
Munde, 35, 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.