Maharashtra: Rs 206-crore chikki scam hits BJP government; no prima facie case against Munde, says Fadnavis

Mumbai(Naziya Alvi Rahman): Barely nine months into the office and the Devendra Fadnavis government has been hit by its first scam. The BJP-led government’s Women and child department has been accused of a scam amounting to Rs 206 crore. As per the allegations, Women and child development minister Pankaja Munde flouted norms to place a Rs 206-crore order in February this year to purchase items such as chikki, mats, dishes and books for the tribal students under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).

All purchases were made without issuing of e-tenders which as per the rule passed by GAD (general administrative department) is mandatory for any purchase of over Rs 10 lakh. She reportedly issued 24 Government Resolutions (GR) on one day to issue purchase orders for all the said materials, a move that raised many an eyebrow.

Chief minister Fadnavis, however, denied all allegations of flouting rules saying there was no ‘prima facie’ case in the allegations against Pankaja Munde since she has used the ‘rate contract’ – an arrangement where the rates for items common to most departments are fixed by the Maharashtra Small Scale Industries Development Corporation (MSSIDC) – when she made decision. He made it clear that Munde was ready to face any kind of inquiry if there is any doubt about any of her decisions.

In the case of ‘rate contract’, MSSIDC invites tenders through advertisements. Tenders received in response are scrutinised and the lowest rate is submitted to the Stores Purchase Committee, Government of Maharashtra for approval. “For the last five years, most purchases in the department have been made through the same process. The new government has been in office for last nine months only,” pointed out a senior government officer from the department.

However, on April 17, 2015, another GAD circular had put a restrain on use of rate contract for orders exceeding one crore. “For this financial year we are bound to follow the process of e-tendering,” the officer added.

Further countering the allegation of why did the government pass 24 Government Resolutions (GR) hurriedly in a day, the officer said that was to save time. “The meeting was held on February 12 and the GRs issued the very next day. As per the government rule if we do not issue the work orders by 15th of the month, we have to start the process of getting clearances all over again,” the officer added.

The department further claimed that it preferred the use of rate contract over e-tendering as it had to exhaust its funds by March 31, end of the financial year. The e-tendering process takes minimum of 60 days but mostly stretches beyond. “In the latter case, money would have got lapsed,” said the officer.

Commenting of the quality of the chikki, the officials admitted that a few samples of Rajgirha chikki distributed in Ahmednagar were found to be contaminated where in the entire batch has been called back. “However, all the samples of peanut chikki have been given approval by the government labarotaries,” said the officer.

Meanwhile, minister Pankaja Munde who is said to be abroad with her family for personal reasons, in a mail expressed her displeasure on the “news of alleged scam” by her department.

“I had felt deeply sad the way women child welfare department functioned all these years… Now, I took some dynamic decisions to reduce corruption and it has troubled some money-minded bunch of people. I have not broken any rules. I don’t fear any allegations,” said the statement.