Maharashtra Minister Pankaja Munde Accused of Rs 206 Cr Scam
Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde was today at the centre of a controversy with the Congress accusing her of involvement in a “scam” by clearing purchases worth Rs 206 crore on a single day instead of inviting tenders in violation of the norms.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, in a late evening statement, however, defended her.
The issue relates to purchases of a host of items including snacks, mats, dishes and books for children under the Integrated Child Development Services by the Women and Child Development Ministry which Munde heads.
While Munde, who is outside the country, denied any wrongdoing in an emailed statement, Fadnavis said, “Prima facie there appears to be no wrong-doing. If needed, we will probe the issue. Pankaja called me and she said she had not committed any irregularity and is ready to face any inquriy.”
But Congress leader and former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan demanded an inquiry either by the CBI or the ACB.
Asked if he would demand Munde’s resignation, Chavan said “Be it Pankaja Munde or Vinod Tawade (education minister caught in a row over educational qualification), this government would not remove anyone. After all, this the policy of the Modi government to brazen out all allegations.”
Pankaja, daughter of the late BJP leader Gopinath Munde, said in her statement, “I feel I should be given a fair chance to present our side… I have very closely observed my decisions and taken best step as much as possible for my department.”
Munde claimed she had not broken any rules and had taken some “dynamic decisions to reduce corruption”.
“I m here to do the best for those kids n women n I will do…I will come bk n all set to answer since I m cofident of my decisions n intentions (sic)..” she said.
An official in her department had said earlier she was expected to return on June 28.
As per government’s norms, any purchase above Rs 3 lakh has to be done through e-tendering.
Munde also said in her statement that, “I, as a minister (have) taken some dynamic decision to reduce currption…Has also troubled some money-minded bunch of people involved…I have not broken any rules as far I am concerned and also not feared of any allegations”.
Senior BJP minister Eknath Khadse said, “Opposition keeps on levelling charges. We don’t take them seriously until they submit proof.”
BJP spokesperson Shaina NC said the opposition had levelled allegations only “to be in news” and should submit evidence.
Accusing BJP and the Centre of double-speak, Congress media department chief Randeep Surjewala said, “We hope that BJP and its government will seriously investigate the way they used to say ‘na khayenge, na khane denge’ and will provide a corruption-free government.”
“We hope that they will, before 1.25 crore people of India, prove that they do what they say,” he said, adding “as layers and layers of corruption get unveiled, one leader after another of BJP is getting exposed. First it was the External Affairs Minister helping a fugitive of law and a black money hoarder, we also saw forged degrees of Irani and now….Pankaja Munde.”
AAP too demanded Munde’s resignation over the issue. “24 GRs (government resolutions for purchases) were passed in a single day without following the due procedure. We demand an independent enquiry into this scam and Pankaja Munde must resign immediately,” state AAP convenor Subhash Ware said.
“Is the Maharashtra CM so incompetent that he did not know the illegality involved or is he so weak that he couldn’t act against his cabinet colleague?
“Fadnavis must come clean on this issue, especially as the state Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar has given clear instructions that any purchases above Rs three lakh have to be done through e-tendering process,” Ware said.
Congress goes to ACB against Pankaja Munde on Rs 206-cr ‘scam’
MUMBAI: The Congress on Wednesday lodged a complaint with the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) alleging that the state’s woman and child welfare department headed by Pankaja Munde had cleared 24 contracts for purchase of items worth Rs 206 crore in a day, on February 13, without inviting any tenders.
Among the items for which purchase orders were cleared that day were chikki, plastic mattresses, steel plates, workbooks, water filters and medicine kits for anganwadis; Rs 80 crore was spent on purchase of ‘micronutritious chikki,’ Rs 25 crore on weighing machines and Rs 18 crore on protein powders.
In 2014, the government mandated e-tenders for all purchases over Rs 3 lakh.
The Fadnavis government has also banned purchases through the rate contract system, in which material is purchased from a company after negotiations on its rate.
The Congress said e-tenders were not invited by Munde’s department and information about the contracts was not put up on the state website.
Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant, who lodged the complaint, submitted documents to the ACB and demanded that the matter be probed “independently without political intervention”. He also demanded that Pankaja step down from her ministerial post till the inquiry was over.
Pankaja, however, issued an emotionally-charged statement from the US, where she currently is, saying, “I as a minister have taken some dynamic decisions to reduce corruption. I have not broken any rules and do not fear allegations… I promised my father I will always do the best for my people… Sensationalizing anything without proper info can destroy people’s trust in the system.”
Director-General of ACB Praveen Dixit said, “We have sought remarks from the principal secretary of the department before we proceed.”
Sources from the woman and child welfare department said that apart from the Congress, NCP leader Dhananjay Munde, who is opposition leader in the Legislative Council and Pankaja’s cousin, had also written to the chief minister on May 20 about the violation of norms while allotting the 24 contracts.
“Not only the minister but officials too are involved in this scam,” Sawant said. “The tender process has not been followed, contracts have been allotted to close ones, many items have been purchased even when they were not needed, while a contract worth Rs 123 crore has been revised after the minister’s instructions and cleared in a day,” alleged the Congress leader.
Manjushree Gund-Patil, Ahmednagar Zilla Parishad president, had written to Pankaja Munde on June 15, saying the chikki distributed to tribal students in the district under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme was contaminated.
Sandesh Karle, president of the Ahmednagar Panchayat Samiti, had written to the panchayat’s chief executive officer demanding action against the chikki supplier. The chikki was supplied by a Sindhudurg-based NGO, Suryakanta Sahkari Mahila Sanstha.
The woman and child welfare department however clarified that it had not flouted any norms. It stated that it was not expected to call e-tenders for the various items and claimed that only information about policy decisions which affect the common people was put up on the website. Also, department officials stated, this was not the first time they had bought such items: they had purchased items worth Rs 164 crore in 2012-13, Rs 127 crore in 2013-14 and Rs 56 crore in June-July 2014.
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