This is the first ‘scam’ comes out in Maharashtra after Devendra Fadnavis sworn in as a Chief Minister of this state. Maharashtra Women and Child Welfare Development Minister Pankaja Munde caught in the centre of a controversy. Congress accused her for the “scam” and alleged that she cleared a purchase of goods worth Rs. 206 crore on a single day instead of inviting tenders and this is clean violation of the norms. However, it seems that Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) stands with her and support her in the issue.
The issue relates to purchases of a host of items including snacks, mats, dishes and books for children under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) by the Women and Child Development Ministry which Munde heads. The opposition says that on February 13, she pushed through as many as 24 contracts with vendors, including some with close links to her family. As per government’s norms, any purchase above Rs. 3 lakh has to be done through e-tendering.
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 Tawde (education minister caught in a row over educational qualification), this government would not remove anyone. After all, this is the policy of the Modi government to brazen out all allegations.”
However, the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) sought an explanation from the Women and Child Development department about the alleged awarding of contracts without inviting tenders from Minister Pankaja Munde.
ACB sent a letter to the department after taking cognisance of a complaint filed by Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant, which has accused Munde of corruption while awarding contracts for supply of a host of items.
Confirming this, Principal Secretary of the Women and Child Welfare Development (WCD) Sanjay Kumar said, “We have received a letter from ACB on Wednesday evening where they have asked for information on the purchases done by the department. We are in the process of making a report based on the letter, which we will submit to the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary.”
Pankaja Munde, who is currently in US on official tour said over the phone, “I feel, I should be given a fair chance to present my side. I have very closely observed my decisions and taken best step as much as possible for my ministry.”
“I’m here to do the best for those kids and women and I will do that. When I will come back, I will give the clarification of all the allegations put on me. As minister I have taken some dynamic decisions to reduce corruption,” she said.
According to sources, “She has been trapped in the internal rivalry within BJP. How her department’s confidential files leaked in the media, is the big question. They were trying to cut her in size like Vinod Tawde after degree row because they feeling threat from her as she is one of the aspiring CM candidates.”
However, Munde’s ministerial berth has no threat until court intervene.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, however, defended her and said, “She has called me and informed me about the issue. She is ready for any inquiry. On this stage, it seems that she has been trapped and nothing wrongdoing is seeing.”
Slamming CM Fadnavis for defending Munde, Leader of Opposition in Legislative Assembly, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said, “Chief Minister is misguiding the people of the state. Instead of asking her to tender resignation, CM is supporting Munde. It was this government decision to issue e-Tender notice for above Rs. 3 lakhs things.”
Senior BJP Minister Eknath Khadse said, “Opposition keeps on levelling charges. We don’t take them seriously until they submit proof. If the opposition gives documents, then we can conduct an enquiry against Pankaja Munde.”
BJP spokesperson Shaina NC also alleged Opposition and said, “The opposition had levelled allegations only “to be in the news” and should submit evidence.”
A bunch of supporters come for the Munde’s defence. Madhav Bhandari, who was strong supporter of senior Munde said, “Pankaja will come out clear, because there is no scam at all. There was a policy introduced by the Congress government that is called the Red Contract wherein Grants come in from the Central Government for ICDS, aims at providing services to pre-school children in an integrated manner so as to ensure proper growth and development in rural, tribal, and slum areas. This policy was expiring on 31st March as the new policy of E-Tendering was being introduced by the present incumbent NDA government by the 18thApril. And she took the decision on 18th February; wherein if she would not have taken this decision then the funds would have lapsed for the said purpose. She has worked within the parameters.
Avdhoot Wagh also supported her strongly and said, “She has not taken any wrong decision. If you don’t purchase the supplies provided by Directorate General Supplies and Disposal (DGS&D) and distribute it to the right people at the right time then the funds will lapse. In fact, she expedited the policy four months after joining the Fadnavis Government.”