Activists have been demanding transparency regarding the Rs200 crore scam pertaining to purchases ordered by minister Pankaja Munde but even the State Chief Information Commissioner, who has received a complaint is keeping mum
Can a six-month-old be given chikki – a hard nut based sweet that a mother would hesitate to give even to a two-year-old? Well, that’s precisely what Pankaja Munde, minister of women and child welfare in Maharashtra, ordered, under the mid-day meal scheme, for children between 6 months to 3 years; for anganwadi children up to six years and pregnant mothers in the state.
More shockingly, the order, to the tune of Rs75 crore odd, has been made during the last month of FY2014-1015, which means for the consumption for just one month. This despite, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court banning large scale purchases without auction or tenders and the Tribal Commissioner coming heavily on its adulteration in the earlier purchase of Rs38 crore worth of this chikki in 2013.
Chikki, bought from Suryakant Mahila Audyogik Sahakari Trust, which has again been placed with Rs75 crore order by Ms Munde, has had a dangerously tarnished backdrop. In 2013, the chikki bought from the Trust was found to be adulterated with pieces of blade, clay, mud, worms, fungus and the packets did not contain manufacturing or expiry dates, as per the report from Tribal Commissioner Radhika Rastogi. Besides, the organization does not exist at all on ground zero. Added, to this is the Supreme Court order of providing hot and piping meals for school children, made by local units to ensure freshness and nutrition.
Ironically, when the chikki scam unearthed in 2013, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Nitin Gadkari and Vinod Tawade amongst others, made a lot of noise in Maharashtra Assembly resulting in the establishment of the one man PS Meena Inquiry Committee. This Committee never gave its report. When BJP government was formed in the State, its minister Pankaja Munde did not bat an eyelid in defying the HC ruling and questioning about the Committee’s findings. Audaciously, she gave the contract in February 2015 to the same deadly contractor, who has no qualms to adulterate chikki that could take the life of infants, children and pregnant mothers.
Despite this deadly scandal that concerns lives of young children and pregnant mothers, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, State Chief Information Commissioner (SCIC) Ratnakar Gaikwad as well as the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is maintaining silence.
Given this backdrop, isn’t it the right of every citizen to know why taxpayers’ money is being laundered for corrupt and vested interest purposes such as these, and one that could dangerously affect the health of thousands of children and pregnant mothers? Precisely for this reason, RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar has lodged a complaint with SCIC Gaikwad, stating it is mandatory to put in public domain, all documents pertaining not only to the chikki scam, but other purchases amounting to Rs205 crore.
In his complaint of 1st July to SCIC, Kumbhar said, “Maharashtra government’s Women and Child Welfare department has recently given a purchase order of Rs206 crore in one day alone. This was ordered on 13 February 2015, for chikki, mats, dishes, books and hand paper for anganwadi schools across Maharashtra. It is mandatory, under Section 4 of the RTI Act, for the public authority, in this case the Women and Child Welfare department to put up the government resolution (GR) along with relevant information pertaining to the purchase, in the public domain, that is, the website. However, this has not been done and information continues to be opaque.
“I had written to Chief Minister Fadnavis on 24th June, requesting him to put the information in public domain. I got a reply stating that the letter has been sent to the appropriate authority for action, however nothing has happened. The information is of large public interest as the entire expenditure comes from taxpayers’ money. Since these are administrative decisions, the process of decision making comes has to be made public as it comes under Section 4 (1) wherein it is mandatory to make public administrative decisions, including the processes that finally made the decisions,” Kumbhar said.
Kumbhar has quoted various sub-sections of Section 4 that makes it mandatory for public authorities to make public: the procedure followed in the decision making process, including channels of supervision and accountability; the manner of execution of subsidy programmes, including the amounts allocated and the details of beneficiaries of such programmes and so on.
Besides chikki, various other procurements for children, which include books, mats, utensils, handmade paper and paper are shockingly scandalous. While Kumbhar has demanded that all information pertaining to these purchases must be in the public domain, surprisingly Chief Minister Fadnavis, as well as, SCIC Gaikwad, who normally does not keep pendency, are totally mum on this front.
It is pertinent to note, that, besides the purchase of chikki, the following purchases are also shocking. Kumbhar has sent a detailed complaint to the Anti-Corruption Bureau but there too, there is utter silence:
Vaidya Industries Nagpur, which has been closed for several years and has no equipment whatsoever to manufacture steel thalis for children, has been given an order of Rs1.15 crore order for 8,93,330 plates, for mini-anganwadi and anganwadi children.
Everest Industries, Gangapur in Aurangabad district just does not exist yet the women and child welfare department has given it an order of around Rs2.65-odd crore for procurement of 5,250 water filters cum purifiers
In order to print calendars and picture puzzle books for children, around Rs1 crore and Rs5 crore respectively were ordered. However, the handmade paper institute outsourced mill paper, to a contractor
Mats of 12x15 ft and 9x12 ft were ordered from the handloom units of Mumbai and Nagpur. For this, around Rs4.35 crore were spent. However, complaints of mats already having been torn are reported. Another set of mats to a non-existent company called Bhavani Enterprises has been ordered for around Rs2 crore. Around 12,700 mats were purchased but they remain unused as the sizes ordered do not fit the anganwadi schools.
In three instances, books for children and guidebooks for teachers of anganwadi were purchased to the tune of several crores of rupees, without any proper process of purchase.
Ayurvedic biscuits, whatever that means, were ordered from Govardhan Ayurpharm Ltd, for Rs5 crore, when the last contract was of Rs95 lakh and the same was to be continued after the termination of the contract in 2014, as per renewed terms and conditions. However, strangely, the order has been jacked to Rs5 crore on that single day of February 2015
Despite the fact that Prist Pharmaceuticals does not exist, an order of Rs3.70 crore odd order has been placed for medicine kits for children. Earlier, this order was spiked by the commissioner, but graciously given by the minister
Twenty first Century Laboratory and Ajantha Pharma, Thane have been given Rs18 crore odd order for purchase of protein powder and sprinkles for daily and weekly consumption respectively without proper monitoring of their contents
A whopping Rs24 crore order has been given for growth weighing machines. Earlier it was given to Sai HiTEch Company but suddenly half of the order of Rs.12 crore has been given to Nitiraj Engineers, Dhule and there is no knowing of procedures followed of either of the orders.
The scandal in comparison to others that rocked the nation may not be high in the amount of rupees however, it concerns the lives and limbs of little children and pregnant mothers, thus making this crime, serious and unpardonable. Also, making it a strong case for availability of all information pertaining to purchases, in the public domain.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of
Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”