Another Maha minister faces irregularities charge in contract

Another Maha minister faces irregularities charge in contract

In fresh trouble for the BJP-led Government in Maharashtra, Education Minister Vinod Tawde is facing allegations of irregularities in connection with awarding of a Rs 191 crore contract without inviting tenders, a charge denied by him.

The fresh allegation against a Maharashtra minister comes close on the heels of a similar charge against Women and Child Welfare Minister Pankaja Munde.

The Finance Department has sought a probe into the irregularties pertaining to a contract awarded by the School Education Department for buying fire extinguishers without e-tendering for Zilla Parishad schools across the state.

The contract, cleared by Tawde, has been put on hold after the Finance Department objected to it.

Tawde, a high profile BJP member in the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet, refuted the allegation as did Munde last week about charges hurled at her by the Opposition Congress.

"Not a single rupee has been paid to contractors. We stopped the order immediately after the Finance Department raised objections," Tawde told reporters today.

On February 11, the department issued a government resolution authorising the office of the Education Director (Primary) to enter into a rate contract for supply of 62,105 fire extinguishers for Zilla Parishad schools across the state.

Each fire extinguisher was to be procured at a price of Rs 8,321 and each school was to be provided three pieces.

Meanwhile, top BJP ministers in the Devendra Fadnavis-led government in Maharashtra today rushed to defend Tawde, who maintained that there was no wrongdoing on his part in the alleged Rs 191 crore scam.

At a hurriedly convened press conference here this afternoon, Tawde was flanked by Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and Co-operatives minister Chandrakant Patil.

"The Opposition is making a mountain out of mole hill," Mungantiwar said.
Tawde told reporters that he was complying with a Supreme Court order on providing fire-fighting equipment for schools.

"Our Education department budget for the purpose is Rs 18 crore but there are allegations of a Rs 191 crore scam," Tawde said.

"I (the department) had Rs 18 crore. I could have easily purchased equipment worth that amount. If I were to comply with the SC order, I would have needed Rs 191 crore. I asked Finance Department what should I do?

"There was already a provision of Rs 18 crore made by earlier Congress government for purchase of fire-fighting equipment in schools," Tawde said.

"Had we wanted, we could have ordered equipment based on that provision.
However, we approached the finance department, asking about providing the equipment to all the schools. That amount came to Rs 191 crore. That is what is being referred as the 'Rs 191 crore scam' despite the fact that not a single rupee has been given to anyone," Tawde said.

About Rs 6-crore worth equipment was delivered, however, no money has been paid to contractors, Tawde said.

Referring to the controversy in media, Patil said, "If there are such baseless allegations, we won't do such essential things (procure equipment) even if there is contempt of court".

"Then Congress government had decided to order fire extinguishers through rate contract after over 100 students were killed in a Chennai school fire and the Supreme Court had stipulated that firefighting equipment should be installed in schools," he said.

Mungantiwar said the media reports of the scam are baseless and without any documentary proof.

"I must thank the Education minister that he closed the file immediately. Not a single rupee was given," he said.

Such allegations cannot be made without political conspiracy. There is a dirty political conspiracy in this matter, he alleged.

"How can there be a scam when no purchase has been made," he added.
Patil said Mungantiwar will be the Maharashtra ministry spokesperson and will interact with media.

Earlier, Munde, daughter of BJP stalwart late Gopinath Munde, had allegedly cleared contracts for a host of items including snacks worth a whopping Rs 206 crore under Integrated Child Development Scheme, without inviting tenders.

The contract was cleared on a single day through 24 government resolutions, allegedly flouting the e-tender norm put in place by the Fadnavis Government itself.
Dubbing it as a 'mega scam', Congress has approached the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) seeking a thorough probe into it.

Chief Minister Fadnavis, however, stood by Munde and dared the opposition to come out with tangible proof to substantiate the charge instead of creating a smokescreen. 

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