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Scams haunt 8-month old Fadnavis govt

It is only eight months ago that Devendra Fadnavis took the reigns of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance government in Maharashtra but in this short span, he has been facing a plethora of problems thanks to his colleagues.

The 44-year-old BJP leader from Vidarbha had assured transparent and corruption-free governance when he took over. However, his government has now got embroiled in several charges of scams. One of them is the Rs 206 crore “chikki scam” in which Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde, who also holds the Women and Child Development portfolio, faces charges of corruption. This has emerged as the first major scam of the new government.

Pankaja is daughter of late BJP leader and former Union minister Gopinath Munde and niece of late Pramod Mahajan. Pankaja, known for her chief ministerial ambitions, is a two-time MLA.

In addition to Pankaja, Fadnavis, who has a ‘Mr Clean’ image, has been facing problems from two senior ministers for their reported fake degrees – Education Minister Vinod Tawde and Water Supply and Sanitation Minister Babanrao Lonikar. Power Minister Chandrashekhar Bawan-kule is accused of having links with the sand mafia. Besides, he had to answer several times on some irresponsible statements made by senior-most cabinet colleague Eknath Khadse.  The chief minister is also faced with the sensational video of five-time BJP MLA Raj Purohit, who was caught in a sting criticising Fadnavis besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah.

Though on the line of Shiv Sena fire and even from some detractors within the BJP, one thing is for sure – Fadnavis enjoys the confidence of Modi-Shah duo. Still, politically speaking, the ensuing monsoon session of the Maharashtra legislature is going to be stormy as Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil of the Congress has claimed that he has CDs of three ministers which he is going to expose.

The biggest problem that Fadnavis faces is from the chikki scam, whose whistleblower is Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde of the NCP, nephew of late Gopinath Munde.

Pankaja has been given a clean chit by Fadnavis – who said there was “no prima facie evidence”. However, Congressman Sachin Sawant, who had lodged a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), says: “The chief minister has been giving clean chit to everybody…it is a clean cheat government.”  Even Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray had described the scam as “serious”. Though Pankaja had said that none of the rules were flouted and that she was not going to resign, the defence for the alleged anganwadi procurement scam has been weak.

“A few years ago, Dhananjay had rebelled against Gopinath Munde…there is a political feud between Pankaja and Dhananjay and this has impacted the government…in Beed, Dhananjay was once known as the political heir of Gopinath Munde. However, in the 2009 Vidhan Sabha polls, Pankaja was given the ticket and slowly he drifted to the Sharad Pawar-led NCP,” a political observer said. He pointed out that the April elections to the Vaidyanath Sugar Cooperative Factory, which was founded by late Munde, saw a bitter battle between the two cousins and Dhananjay lost.

ICDS schemes
On May 20, Dhananjay wrote to Fadnavis and demanded a probe into the chikki scam – and now Congress has lapped up the issue. Pankaja, he said, had violated rules requiring e-tendering and cleared deals to purchase a wide array of items for state-run schools for tribal children under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). These include chikki, medicines, workbooks, mats and so on.

All the purchases were cleared on one day - February 13, through 24 Government Resolutions (GRs) – which is unprecedented. Instead of e-tendering, Pankaja followed the rate-contract system, under which the Maharashtra Small Scale Industries Development Corporation (MSSIDC) invites tenders through advertisements. The procedure here is, tenders received in response are scrutinised and the lowest rate is submitted to the Stores Purchase Committee of Maharashtra government for approval.

As far as the chikki purchase is concerned, the Ahmednagar Zilla Parishad had complained saying that the chikki products  were sub-standard and mixed with clay. According to the complaint lodged by Congress, Suryakanta Mahila Audyogik Sahakari Sansthan, a Sindhudurg-based organisation, was given contracts worth Rs 144 crore in a single day violating all norms. The contract for micro-nutrient chikki was worth Rs 80 crore at a rate of Rs 28.50 per 100 gram. The contract for rajgira chikki was worth Rs 23.85 crore, assuming a rate of Rs 21.50 for 100 g, while the contract for dry coconut chikki was worth Rs 10.41 crore (Rs 20 per 100 g).

Pankaja has also been accused of awarding a contract to a Navi Mumbai-based firm for students' workbooks worth Rs 5.6 crore with the cheque issued to its proprietor in his personal capacity. She was also said to have given approval to purchase water filters from a Nashik-based company at Rs 5,200 per unit as against the original price of Rs 4,500 per unit, although the company had no manufacturing facilities.

Besides, two separate orders were issued to purchase ‘growth monitoring machines’, used to weigh undernourished kids, and awarded to two separate parties at a cost of Rs 18 crore and Rs 6 crore, respectively. She also approved purchase of a medical kit at Rs 720 per unit, but since the provision was for only Rs 500 per kit, the supplier was permitted to reduce the number of medicines in the kit to keep it within the limit.

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