Right to Information
Public Interest Exclusive
Chikki moment: When the SCIC also keeps mum on RTI queries
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:
  1.  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.
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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”.) 

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COMMENTS

Joseph DSouza

2 years ago

They are just recovering the huge amount of money spent during elections by hook or by crook. They are not bothered as absolute majority has gone to their heads and they feel they can do anything, it is their right. To hell with the taxpayers.This Minister is just a tool - as if a lady minister cannot be questioned(we Indians even have soft corner for corrupt women) They are competing with corrupt men. Long live corrupt women power

Shirish Sadanand Shanbhag

2 years ago

In violation of Constitutional provisions in giving contract by inviting the E-tenders, Honouable Minister Pankaja Mundhe has awarded contract of chikki.
Even this contract was given without following any quality norms for the folld.
It is surprising that Honourable CM Devendra Fadnavis, didn't direct her to correect her mistake, by cancelling all the orders, and start everything a fresh, by adhering to all the rules of food quality and tender process.
A petiable condition of Maharashtra, that opposition MLA's instead of raising their voice in Assembly hall, thy are boycotting the assembly.
In the past, leaders from Maharashtra, like Late Barrister Nath Pai, could take Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the task only with his speech, unsupported by any other MPs. Such types of MPs and MLAs and Corporators are not to be seen now a days. These leaders simply shout outside the assemply hall, with placards ask the ministers to resign.
If our ministers are really interested to serve the people, then even by their own writing to the Speaker, they can take the Ministers to the task. Opposition MLAs don't want to do that, since they are afraid, that ruling party may bring opposition leaders' scam out, may expose them in the court of law.

manoharlalsharma

2 years ago

whats 200 against 70,000 cr.? the people sitting either side asking to newly elected member this affectionate may be unknown to PROCEDURE or not consulted to an IAS officer & INNOCENT people can do do such mistakes but 70,000/CR?

jaideep shirali

2 years ago

This proves only one thing to citizens. Only the 'colour' has changed from white to saffron, the underlying criminality remains the same. Na khayenge, na khane denge, is an apt slogan here, the stuff is anyway dangerous to eat. The pradhan sevak's party is not here to clean up a 60 year mess, it is to make up opportunities lost in making money in these 60 years. Finally, we should have a ban on any serving or retired government servant in RTI related posts, their normal tendency is to protect the skeletons in the govt cupboard.

TIHARwale

2 years ago

Nothing surprising given the fact contractors know how to keep officials happy. Have we not seen the close association between Nitin Gadkari and Ajit Pawar, also Pankaja Munde is neice of Pramod Mahajan

Narendra Doshi

2 years ago

Cheers to Vinita, as usual, for this deep research. Am aghast at the vastness of the cheating. Do they have a soul?

Cabinet nod for merging FDI, FII limits
The cabinet committee on economic affairs on Thursday cleared a policy for determining composite foreign investment limits by including funds flowing through foreign direct investment (FDI), foreign institutional investment (FII) and other routes.
 
The committee approved "the introduction of composite caps for the simplication of foreign direct investment", Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters after the cabinet meeting here. 
 
The decision of merging the limits of foreign direct and portfolio investments into a composite cap is essentially a move towards giving companies more flexibility for deciding on the desired mix of foreign investment.
 
It will also bring in transparency and clarity on the country's foreign investment policy.
 
Opposition parties, including the Congress and the Left, have been against the proposal on the ground that portfolio investment is in nature very short-term "hot money" that can leave the country at any time, creating crises of capital outflow.
 
In this connection, the government said on Tuesday that FDI in the country has seen a 48 percent growth since the launch of the 'Make in India' initiative in September last year.
 
"The FDI growth has been significant after the launch of 'Make in India' initiative in September 2014, with 48 percent increase in FDI equity inflows during October 2014 to April 2015 over the corresponding period last year," a commerce ministry statement said.
 
In 2014-15, the country witnessed unprecedented growth of 717 percent or $40.92 billion in investments by foreign institutional investors (FIIs), it said.

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Panel favours end to free call regime over Internet
In a move that can end the free regime for domestic calls made through Internet messenger services such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype, an official panel has suggested that they be benchmarked against regular telecom service providers for tariff and regulation.
 
Yet, it has said other communication services offered by them dealing with messaging should not be interfered with through regulation. "For these application services, there is no case for prescribing regulatory oversight similar to conventional communication services," it said.
 
"Under existing telecom licensing conditions, Internet telephony is permitted under restricted conditions. But pricing the arbitrage of OTT (over-the-top) domestic voice communication services has the potential of significantly disrupting existing telecom revenue models," the panel said.
 
"The existence of a regulatory arbitrage, in addition to the pricing arbitrage, adds a degree of complexity that requires a graduated and calibrated public policy response to bring about a level playing field," said the committee that was asked to look at the whole gamut of net neutrality.
 
The panel, headed by technocrat A.K. Bhargava, said the tariff plans offered by telecom and Internet service providers must conform to the government's principles of net neutrality, and the the watchdog asked to examine the tariffs in accordance with the stated objectives.
 
"Legitimate traffic management practices may be allowed but should be tested against the core principles of net neutrality," it said, but wanted a "liberal regime" for voice telephony over the Internet for international calling services.
 
Still an evolving concept, net neutrality means governments and Internet service providers must treat all data and services on the Internet equally, and must not levy differential tariffs for usage, content, platform, sites, application or mode of commun“cation.
 
Reacting to the report, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said India already had enough regulations on the Net telephony and there was no need to further bring a licensing or revenue share arrangement between the various types of service providers.
 
"This will disrupt VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) and will also skew any further innovation in the same field which is need of the hour," it said.
 
"We need to facilitate OTT services. The idea is not to increase regulatory burden on OTT players but to reduce it on telecom players. The committee is suggesting a higher regulatory burden on OTT players, which is retrograde," said Mahesh Uppal, director of telecom consultancy Com First.
 
"Instead, it should have sought to equate the regulatory burden by reducing the burden on telecom players," Uppal told IANS.
 
The committee said the primary goals of net neutrality should be directed towards achievement of developmental aims of the country by facilitating universal, affordable broadband with a good quality of service for its citizens.
 
"Over-the-top application services should be actively encouraged and any impediments in expansion and growth of OTT application services should be removed," the report added.
 
"As recognized in today's report, we introduced the Internet.org platform to promote an internet access model that is open and non-exclusive," said Kevin Martin, vice-president for Mobile and Global Access Policy at Facebook.
 
"We welcome the Department of Telecom's engagement and consultation process and are committed to working with all stakeholders to overcome the infrastructure, affordability and social barriers that exist today and to bring more people in India online," Martin added.
 
However, a non-governmental organisation, Telecom Watchdog, reacting to the report has written to the Prime Minister's Office, condemning it.
 
"The report's key recommendations, if implemented, would impact crores of subscribers. On the face of it, the recommendations look like as if it supports 'net neutrality', but in fact the details are contrary. It is anti-consumers and bad for the business of Digital India," the letter said.
 
The report also said national security is paramount, regardless of treatment of net neutrality.
 
"The measures to ensure compliance of security related requirements from OTT service providers, need to be worked out through inter-ministerial consultation."

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COMMENTS

mathai

2 years ago

funniest of reasons. has the potential of significantly disrupting existing telecom revenue models
and good enough to bring back bullock carts. just price up the truck service adequately so that goods transportation by bullock carts become viable.

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