BJP closes ranks as another procurement scam surfaces

Education minister Vinod Tawde has been hit by allegations over alleged irregularities in a Rs 191-crore contract for school fire extinguishers; senior ministers Sudhir Mungantiwar and Chandrakant Patil appeared in joint press conferences along with Tawde yesterday, refuting the allegations against the education minister

A beleaguered BJP, which saw yet another minister, Vinod Tawde, face allegations of irregularities in purchasing fire extinguishers for zilla parishad schools on Tuesday, put up a show of unity that was missing when other BJP ministers were being attacked for similar reasons.

Education minister Vinod Tawade
Education minister Vinod Tawade

Senior ministers Sudhir Mungantiwar (who was in the reckoning for the CM’s post), and Chandrakant Patil, who has pushed many powerful party stalwarts behind in terms of his influence over the party’s high command, led the education minister’s defence from the front on Tuesday, even as CM Devendra Fadnavis was wooing investors in the US.

Mungantiwar and Patil, accompanied by Tawde, addressed a series of press conferences throughout the day. Fadnavis discussed the matter with senior leaders, but had not issued any statement till yesterday evening. The Shiv Sena also chipped in with its support to Tawde. Party MP Arvind Sawant said the Sena would stand behind the minister, and its ally, the BJP.

Sources said Finance Minister Mungantiwar went to rescue Tawde, because his department had found irregularities in the proposal sent by Tawde’s education department. “The popular perception was that the finance minister was behind ‘exposing’ Tawde,” said sources, adding that Patil stepped in as a binding force because he has strong connections with the party’s top leaders.

The PWD & cooperation minister has assumed great importance in the party over the past nine months. In the BJP office, state president Raosaheb Danve also put on a brave face, giving Tawde a clean chit. Another major accused in a separate R206 crore procurement scam, Pankaja Munde, who returned from London in the early hours of Tuesday, will clarify her position today.

The finance department has put on hold a R191-crore contract awarded by Tawde in February, citing certain objections. As per Tawde’s directive, the education director (primary) would procure fire extinguishers for 62,105 zilla parishad (ZP) schools. As per the rate contract, each fire extinguisher was to cost R8,321 and each school was to be given three extinguishers.

Tawde said the proposal to this effect was first moved by the then School Education Minister Rajendra Darda (of the Congress). “We needed to procure extinguishers as per the Supreme Court directive,” Tawde said. He said the contract was kept in abeyance on March 4 this year when the finance department raised objections.

He also said the contractor firm, Reliable Fire Engineers, was not paid any money though it had raised the first bill of R6.20 crore for supplying 6,047 extinguishers. However, no minister could say as to why the contractor was allowed to raise the bill when the contract itself was found to be irregular.

 

Didn't allow a single paisa to be spent: Tawde

There is no corruption as alleged against me in this case. I did not allow a single paisa to be spent on the material sought. The proposal was approved by the erstwhile government because the SC has asked for installing firefighting equipment in all schools. I moved the file to the finance department because it involved more expenditure. 
- Vinod Tawde, education minister

Tawde should be thanked for sending the proposal to the finance department, because the move helped the government in finding irregularities. It is wrong to accuse him of corruption because he has saved the state’s money. This is a conspiracy against us.
- Sudhir Mungantiwar, finance minister

Should we stop working for the people? You (media) come up with something which makes us self-conscious, and may stop us from taking pro-people decisions. This is a conspiracy to defame our government. 
- Chandrakant Patil, PWD and cooperation minister

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