In his defence of Maharashtra women and child development minister Pankaja Munde, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis claimed on Friday, “The decision to make e-tendering (competitive bidding) mandatory was taken in April, but these purchases were made before that, for the financial year 2014-15.”
But records show that in December 2014, Fadnavis had announced on the floor of the assembly that government contracts would be given only through e-tendering “for the sake of transparency”.
Despite this, Munde’s women and child welfare department used the old, corruption-riddled ‘rate contract’ system, under which prices are fixed through negotiations with contractors, not by inviting competitive bids.
The Congress is now using this to attack Fadnavis, saying he backtracked on his promise to ensure transparency through e-tendering. The party has demanded to know how Munde was allowed to award contracts under the rate contract system in February 2015, three months after Fadvanis’s announcement in the assembly.
On Friday, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, leader of the opposition in the assembly, released copies of the house proceedings in which Fadnavis said his government had stopped making purchases through rate contracts. According to these documents, Fadvavis had said, “There will be no compromise done for the sake of transparency. We have reduced the [lower] limit for e-tendering from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 3 lakh. All purchases above Rs 3 lakh will not be done without e-tendering henceforth. I urge all the members of the house to not request for any type of favour (in the allotment of contracts). The decision is in the interest of the state.”
Vikhe-Patil questioned Fadnavis’s defence of Munde, in which he claimed that the rate contract system still was in place when she awarded the contracts in February, and that it was only scrapped in April. “This clearly means that the CM’s junior in his cabinet does not follow his directives,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Congress found itself in an embarrassing position when it was revealed that the cooperative organisation to which Munde’s department awarded a dubious contract to supply chikki is headed by local Congress leader Pradnya Parab and industrialist MK Gawde in Sindhudurg. The party tried to distance itself from Parab on Friday.
“We are not backing any wrongdoing and demand action against all the people involved, irrespective of their political affiliation. One thing should be taken into account: our government did not allot the contract to the organisation,” said Sachin Sawant, Congress spokesperson.
Both Gawde and Parab are close confidants of Congress leader Narayan Rane, who is expected to make a statement soon.