Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde is again at the centre of a row, this time over her backing an officer facing a graft probe for the post of commissioner of the Mira Road-Bhayander municipal corporation. On her recommendation, the Devendra Fadnavis government appointed Achyut Hange to the post in violation of its own norms.
The question doing the rounds at Mantralaya, the state secretariat, is: why would Munde, the minister for rural development, be interested in who becomes civic chief of an extended suburb of Mumbai and why recommend someone facing a corruption probe?
Hange, a class-I officer, is facing a departmental inquiry over allegations of corruption in a Rs250-crore underground drainage project undertaken during his tenure as municipal commissioner of Bhiwandi in 2014. Munde pleaded his case in a letter to chief minister Fadnavis on January 17, 2015. Hange was removed as Bhiwandi commissioner and posted as deputy commissioner of the Nagpur municipal corporation in August 2014 by the previous chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, following the graft charges. The inquiry into the alleged corruption is being conducted by the Konkan Divisional Commissioner.
Neither Fadnavis nor Munde responded to repeated calls and text messages to their mobile phones.
Read: Pankaja Munde in a spot after man seen carrying her slippers
Hange, however, rubbished the charges saying it was a conspiracy hatched by officers with vested interests. “There is nothing new in a departmental inquiry; hundreds of government officials face them in the course of duty. I have replied to all the allegations and the government has to take final decision,” he said. The officers who had unsuccessfully lobbied for the post had ganged up to dislodge him, Hange claimed. The chief minister had discretionary powers and his transfer was according to the law, he added.
Hange’s appointment falls foul of several of the government’s own rules. For one, he was not entitled to a transfer as he had served in Nagpur for just six months against the mandated three years. Further, at least a dozen senior officers were waiting for postings ahead of him.
In fact, the appointing authority in the Urban Development Department, which governs civic bodies, had opposed Munde’s recommendation, pointing to the ongoing inquiry, the violation of the set term for a certain post, and the eligibility of other senior officers.
Moreover, the appointment made on February 18, 2015, is in violation of a government resolution (GR) issued just seven days earlier, on February 11, by the Fadnavis government mandating disciplinary action against officers putting pressure for postings through recommendations by any elected representative. The GR, which has referred to various orders by the courts and the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal, also states that in no circumstances should a request for mid-term (before the stipulated three years) transfer be entertained.
“The proposal of any officer who has not completed three years in his post should not be entertained in normal circumstances … disciplinary action should be initiated against the officer demanding the posting using political pressure,” the GR states.
Despite all this, Munde and Chief Minister Fadnavis – who has discretionary powers in appointment of bureaucrats — went ahead with Hange’s appointment. Fadnavis has noted on the file put up by the UDD to appoint Hange and move the file on priority basis.
Ironically, four days before she sent a recommendation letter for Hange, Munde had dispatched another letter on January 13, 2015, recommending another officer, Govind Bodke, for the same post. The question is: Why has Munde been taking interest in the appointment of the civic chief of Mira-Bhayander when the departments she heads, rural development and women and child welfare, have little to do with the civic body?
Interestingly, the complaint related to the irregularities in the posting was made by a former BJP corporator from Mira-Bhayandar Sanjay Pange. “I think this is a case of violation of his own rules by Fadnavis on the insistence of his fellow cabinet member. I am not levelling any allegations, but as taught to us by our leaders including the late Gopinath Munde [Pankaja’s father], I am pointing out the irregularities in administration headed by our leaders,” said Pange.