The BJP government in Maharashtra may have dismissed allegations of a Rs 206-crore scam against women and child welfare minister Pankaja Munde but experts point out glaring anomalies in the deal, rallying her rivals within the party.
The scandal is the first to hit the eight-month-old Devendra Fadnavis government, dealing a fresh blow to an embattled BJP that is embroiled in a controversy over two of its top leaders allegedly helping ex-IPL boss Lalit Modi.
Government sources say Munde’s ministry flouted norms in awarding contracts without conducting a compulsory e-tendering process – required for any deal over Rs 3 lakh – by issuing 24 government regulations in a single day, in violation of a high court order.
Insiders say it was only after these allotments on February 13 this year that chief minister Fadnavis scrapped the system as goods were allegedly purchased at inflated rates.
The Congress and Aam Aadmi Party have demanded Munde’s resignation, saying the daughter of former Union minister, the late Gopinath Munde, favoured select firms in awarding contracts for workbooks for students, medicines and 'chikkis'.
The 35-year-old has denied all wrongdoing and said e-tendering was not necessary as it was an extension of old contracts. But the rules say otherwise.
“The minister claimed Central funds were on the verge of lapsing but one-and-a-half months remained and the department could have easily completed the process by year-end. The department flouted rules on the direction of ministers,” said a women and child development ministry official.
The officer questioned the need to order Rs 113 crore worth of chikki (nutrition bar), despite no supplier having the capacity to supply the huge quantity.
Rates fixed for other departments were used by the women and child welfare department just to favour some contractors, he alleged.
Many in the BJP believe the latest controversy is a fallout of the infighting as Munde’s meteoric rise has angered a section of the party leadership. The Parli MLA was promoted to the core committee and eventually to the cabinet last October, after the death of her father in a car crash in Delhi.
She is backed by a group loyal to her father, who used to call the shots in the Maharashtra BJP, but her statement admitting chief ministerial ambitions has rattled many in the party.
“Fadnavis has not empathetically rubbished the allegations. He was cautious when he said prima facie he didn’t see any wrongdoing in the case. The statement itself talks a lot,” an observer said.