Sticking to the demand for resignation of tainted ministers in the Maharashtra government, the Opposition on Wednesday stepped up its offensive against the Devendra Fadnavis government.
Signalling that the upcoming monsoon session of the Assembly would be a stormy one, Congress’s Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, leader of opposition in the state legislature, said, “We have decided not to allow the House to function unless the tainted ministers resign.” Vikhe-Patil added that the NCP would back the Congress on this issue.
Patil’s announcement comes a day after senior Congress and NCP leaders met to chalk out the opposition strategy for the monsoon session.
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By ‘tainted ministers’, Vikhe-Patil was referring to Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde, who is under the scanner over alleged irregularities in awarding contracts worth Rs 206 crore and for allegedly interfering with the tendering process for water conservation works, and School Education Minister Vinod Tawde, who is under the scanner over his educational qualifications and alleged irregularities in a contract for supply of fire extinguishers in schools. “The scam-hit government has lost the confidence of the people. The only option it has is for the tainted ministers to step down, accepting moral responsibility,” Vikhe-Patil said.
Even as Pankaja convened a press conference, the Congress sharpened its attack on her. “Rather than coming out with the truth, she (Pankaja) only made efforts to cover her lies,” Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said.
Claiming that the allegations against her for awarding Rs 206-crore contracts for purchasing items for anganwadi schools remained unanswered, Sawant raised more queries. While the minister questioned the Opposition’s credibility, Sawant said his party was convinced that the “contracts were a fully blown scam”.
“How can the minister say she is not involved when official documents show that her private secretary had sought favouring a disqualified bidder at the instance of the minister?” Sawant said.
Pankaja is up against a public litigation for allegedly interfering with the tendering process and misusing her official position regarding water conservation contracts. The controversy erupted after official documents allegedly showed how her office had stepped in on the complaint of a contractor whose bid for the water conservation works had been disqualified on technical grounds.
While authorities had disqualified the bids of Sunil HiTech, a firm headed by Ratnakar Gutte —- a BJP leader and reportedly a close Munde aide —- for non-compliance of a tender condition, all pages of the bid document were not digitally signed as required. Official documents reveal that Pankaja’s office stepped in following a complaint from Gutte, who had argued that he had been disqualified despite being the lowest bidder.
In fact, official documents show that Pankaja’s private secretary Dr Naresh Gite remarked in an official letter, “Minister has directed that necessary action be taken in the case of the lowest bidder to avoid loss of revenue to the state exchequer.”
Asked about allegations of interfering with the tendering process, Pankaja said, “ I’m not aware of any such noting.” Later she added that her office had just mentioned “take appropriate action” after complaints of favoritism in the tender process had been received. The Congress retorted sharply. “She cannot shirk from the blame,” Sawant said.