Allegations of corruption have yet again surfaced against the Bharatiya Janata Party led Maharashtra government. On Tuesday, news reports claimed that Maharashtra Education Minister Vinod Tawde has been accused of awarding contracts to buy fire extinguishers worth Rs 191 crore without inviting e-tenders. Strongly refuting these allegations, Tawde had said not a single rupee was paid to contractors and that his department immediately stopped the order when the state Finance Department raised objections. Only last week, a Marathi news channel reported that Tawde’s engineering institute was not recognised by the <g data-gr-id="35">government,</g> and that the degree he received was bogus. In addition to Tawde’s alleged improprieties, <g data-gr-id="33">an Rs</g> 230-crore procurement scam related to Women and Child Development Department headed by Minister Pankaja Munde also hangs over the head of BJP led Maharashtra government.
The Opposition has accused Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde of irregularities in purchases for the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), a supplementary nutrition scheme for <g data-gr-id="29">at risk</g> children and pregnant/lactating women. According to members of the opposition, Munde awarded awarding contracts worth Rs 230-crore for snacks, dishes, <g data-gr-id="30">water-filters</g> and mats, among others for ICDS child care centres through 24 government resolutions on a single day on February 13, without entertaining the e-tendering process. As per Maharashtra government’s norms, any purchase above Rs 3 lakh has to be done through e-tendering.
Munde responded to these allegations and said that her decision to check corruption had “troubled” some “money-minded” people. However, not even the BJP’s alliance partner at the Centre, the Shiv Sena, is buying into Munde’s defence. In fact, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has gone on record to state that the allegations against Munde are “serious” and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis must look into the matter. In 2004, the apex court had ordered all states to remove contractors for the supply of <g data-gr-id="38">take home</g> rations and hot cooked meals for children and pregnant women under the ICDS. However, reports on the ground suggest that procurement of such products continues to be outsourced from private contractors, who have been known to provide substandard meals.
All these allegations must be understood through the Fadanavis government’s decision to amend Sections 156(3) and 190 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which empowered a magistrate to order an investigation into alleged improprieties. According to various legal luminaries, the amendment proposed by the Maharashtra government will sorely limit the magistrate’s power to file complaints against alleged corruption and subsequently get them investigated. The proposed amendments state that for a magistrate to take cognisance of a private citizen’s complaint and direct an investigation, he/she must seek the prior approval of the state government. This is an unfortunate step taken by the Maharashtra government, despite Fadnavis’s claim during his swearing-in ceremony last year that he would bring in a new law if it would help the state administration get rid of corruption. Slowly but surely, the halo around the current ruling dispensation in Maharashtra seems to be fading away.