Rs 206-cr procurement scam: ACB seeks explanation from Pankaja's dept

In a major embarrassment for the state govt, which will only add to the BJP’s woes, the ACB has asked the Women and Child Welfare department, headed by Munde, to submit a response to a complaint of graft in the purchase of items for anganwadis in February

In a major embarrassment for the 8-month-old Devendra Fadnavis government which came to power promising a change from the ‘corrupt’ Congress-NCP dispensation Pankaja Munde, a Cabinet minister, has come under the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s scanner following accusations of her involvement in a R206-crore procurement scam.

Munde said she was being targeted and was ready for any probe. CM Devendra Fadnavis also said that, “prima facie”, there appeared to be no wrongdoing. File pic
Munde said she was being targeted and was ready for any probe. CM Devendra Fadnavis also said that, “prima facie”, there appeared to be no wrongdoing. File pic

The ACB yesterday asked Sanjay Kumar, principal secretary of Munde’s Women and Child Welfare department, to submit a response to a complaint filed by state Congress Spokesperson Sachin Sawant. Even the Shiv Sena could seemingly not resist taking a swipe at its coalition partner, with party chief Uddhav Thackeray terming the allegations serious. “The allegations against Pankaja are serious.

The Maharashtra CM is capable enough of answering all questions,” Thackeray said at the sidelines of a book release function last evening. Munde, who is an MLA from Parli and the daughter of late senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, is accused of clearing the purchase of 24 items early this year for government-run anganwadis (kindergartens) without following proper procedures.

Contracts for the items, which include, a nutritious snack (chikki), stainless steel utensils, water filters, books and plastic mats, were allegedly given without inviting tenders and Munde is accused of favouring certain contractors. Confirming the development, ACB chief Praveen Dixit told mid-day that he has asked Kumar to send his remarks on the charges levelled by the Congress office-bearer.

Kumar said, “The ACB sent us a letter last evening in which it has asked us for information on the purchases done by the Women and Child Welfare department. We are in the process of preparing a report based on the letter from the ACB. which we will submit to the CM and the chief secretary.”

‘Followed the rulebook’
The charges have come at a bad time both for the state government, which was already battling allegations of another Cabinet minister, Vinod Tawde, having submitted a ‘bogus’ degree and the BJP, with the opposition calling for the resignations of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje for their alleged involvement in the Lalit Modi scandal.

Sources in the Women and Child Welfare department said an explanation has already been given to the CM and chief secretary. “The same explanation will also be given to the ACB,” said a senior officer in the department, adding that the report had absolved Munde and other officials of any wrongdoing. He said the purchases were done as per the rules that existed then.

Munde, who is in London, also denied the charges through her publicist. Her statement said that her opponents were targeting her because of her pro-woman/child decisions. She said she had had a telephonic conversation with Fadnavis and was ready for any probe. Fadnavis told mid-day that “prima facie” Munde seemed to have done nothing wrong.

“Prima facie, there appears to be no wrongdoing (on Pankaja’s part). If needed, we will probe the issue,” he said, adding that the purchases were approved in February this year as funds provided by the Centre under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) would have expired on March 31. “The norm of inviting e-tenders for purchases worth Rs 3 lakh or more was introduced in April,” the CM said.

Baying for blood
Sawant, meanwhile, demanded that the entire functioning of the Women and Child Department be probed by ACB. He also demanded that Munde be removed from the Cabinet while the investigations were on. “There is no point in demanding an explanation from the people who monitored the purchase and could be involved in corruption. Fadnavis is protecting a corrupt minister,” he told mid-day yesterday.

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