City anchor: Weddings at Mahasainik Lawns not a happy affair

They say exorbitant rates are being charged and a few contractors on the Mahasainik Lawns panel are enjoying monopoly owing to lack of transparency.

Written by Pranav Kulkarni | Published: April 20, 2013 1:38 am

Months after The Indian Express reported diversion of Flag Day Fund by the Department of Sainik Welfare (DSW) without approval of competent authorities,ex-servicemen (ESM) have come up with another complaint,this time about Mahasainik Lawns primarily created to be offered at concessional rates to host wedding receptions of children of ex-servicemen.

They say exorbitant rates are being charged and a few contractors on the Mahasainik Lawns panel are enjoying monopoly owing to lack of transparency. The ESM has been alleging that in this manner,DSW has been acting against their welfare.

It is mandatory for those who book the lawns to choose contractors for catering,decoration and photography from the Mahasainik Board-approved panel.

The complaints have been forwarded to office of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

In one complaint,commander (retd) Ravindra Pathak,a member of the Indian Ex Servicemen Movement (IESM),says,“The lawns are for the benefit of ESM and to finance welfare schemes for war widows,and widows of ESM and their families. The lawns are not only being rented out at exorbitant rates but the contracts are being awarded to a chosen few creating a virtual monopoly and higher prices for users. No tendering process is followed to shortlist contractors for catering and decoration.”

There are only two or three contractors and no tendering process has ever been followed by DSW,they allege.

“The monopoly of contractors has resulted in poor service,besides arrogance and discourteous behavior towards ESM. Their rates which should be subsidized are more than market rates. Initial quotations the decoration contractor gave me was a staggering Rs 1.5 to 2 lakh which was subsequently negotiated. All the above facts prove DSW is no longer achieving the purpose of ex-servicemen welfare and has in fact become a moneymaking venture,” alleged Col (retd) Laxman Sathe,who had complained after the wedding of his daughter.

The lawns are hired out to others,too,and the aim is to generate funds for welfare of ex-servicemen. In this regard,Pathak, citing information obtained under RTI, said,“The rate has been rising every year for ex-servicemen and war widows but interestingly rates for corporate clients have been reduced.”

The RTI reply reveals that charges for ex-servicemen have been going up since 2009,while for corporates they have come down from 1.2 lakh to Rs 1 lakh.

Recently,a DSW meeting discussed these issues. This reporter attended the meeting where Retd Maj Milind Tungar,deputy director,DSW,acknowledged that no tenders were floated for contracts to caterers and decorators. No concrete promise was,however,made to remedy this.

When this reported tried to contact him,he was unavailable for comment.

Hall cost trebled within a year

RTI documents have brought to light that cost of construction of Mastani Hall,rented out for small functions,had risen from 16.2 lakh in 2009 to Rs 44.48 lakh in 2010,a period during which the DSW director changed. The DSW built a mini-hall and sanction for the work was given days before the change of guard in 2009. The original work order was for 16.2 lakh and soon after the change of guard in May 2009,the specifications were changed and cost of project shot up to Rs 44.48 lakh,documents reveal.

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