In Maharashtra’s Energy Minister Chandrasekhar Bawankule’s Assembly constituency in Nagpur, the BJP-led government has so far awarded 21 road contracts, collectively worth more than Rs 57 crore, to a firm headed by the minister’s younger brother.
Bawankule himself was a partner in the firm till 2004. The minister’s wife, Jyoti, and son, Sanket, were also partners in the firm earlier.
Officials in Maharashtra’s Public Works Department (PWD) confirmed to The Sunday Express that since January 2015, the firm, Shree Jagdamba Construction Company, has been awarded 21 road contracts worth Rs 57.68 crore, all in Bawankule’s constituency, Kamptee, in Nagpur. The BJP government was elected to power in Maharashtra in October, 2014.
When contacted, Bawankule denied any conflict of interest in his brother’s firm bagging contracts. “It is true that I was once associated with the firm. But I retired from it in 2004. Since then, I have absolutely nothing to do with the firm. It is run by my brother, who is a separate entity,” said the minister. Bawankule has been representing Kamptee since 2004. “Even my wife and son retired from this firm in 2004 itself,” he added.
According to details available with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, the firm is currently spearheaded by Bawankule’s brother Nandkishore, along with another person named Dhanraj Barde. Incidentally, Barde is also a director in another private limited firm, Shree Jagdamaba Construction Company (Koradi) Private Limited, which operates from the same registered address- Plot No 28A, Shree Jagdamba Niwas, Post Koradi Colony, Chhindwara Road, Tehsil Kamptee, Koradi — and also has Sanket as an Additional Director.
“The firms are independent of one another. They share a common address since it is an ancestral property that I and my three brothers had inherited from my father (Krushnrao). The firms operate from different floors,” Bawankule said, alleging that the accusations were an attempt to malign him.
Senior PWD officials confirmed that recommendatory letters from the local MLA are taken as part of procedure before taking up a road improvement project. Official records reviewed by The Sunday Express reveal that Shree Jagdamba Construction Company bagged 13 road contracts worth Rs 7.96 crore in the constituency in 2015. In 2016 so far, the firm bagged 8 more contracts totalling Rs 49.72 crore. All these collectively dealt with improvement work for 60 kilometers of road.
Bawankule added that his brother won these contracts after participating in a competitive bidding process. “There is no question of influencing the officials for giving him a contract. The government awards such works on an e-tendering basis,” he said.
Janardan Bhanuse, Executive Engineer, Construction Division, PWD, Nagpur, confirmed that all these contracts had been e-tendered for. “Other contractors too had bid for the works. Jagdamba was the lowest bidder.”
The newspaper also possesses copies of work orders of five work orders issued to the firm between January-March 2016. In all of these, the firm’s financial offer was 20-30 per cent below the fair civil estimate arrived at by PWD authorities. Local PWD officials said this was also the case with the remaining contracts the firm bagged. In Maharashtra, the practice is to award the contract to the lowest bidder.
Interestingly, the BJP government, almost immediately after winning office, had issued guidelines for discouraging below par bids. Bhanuse, however, confirmed that despite new norms unveiled by the government in this regard, the trend to quote below than the estimated price had continued among most contractors. New norms require contractors to submit an additional security deposit for the difference between the estimated price and the quoted price in case of bids lower than 10 per cent.
“This has been furnished in all these contracts,” Bhanuse said. PD Navghare, Acting Chief Engineer, PWD, Nagpur, said that quality control cell has been asked to inspect all such roadworks (where the contractor has submitted lower value quotations) more frequently as compared to other roads based on government’s directives. “This is being done,” Navghare said.
Despite several attempts, Nandkishore Bawankule could not be contacted. When The Sunday Express called him up on his mobile phone, one of his aides first said he (Nandkishore) was in a meeting. Later, an aide said Nandkishore is in Madhya Pradesh and cannot be reached.
Bawankule’s archrival Kishor Chaudhary, who had unsuccessfully contested on a Nationalist Congress Party ticket for the adjoining Saoner constituency in the 2014 assembly polls, has, meanwhile, alleged that as guardian minister for Nagpur, Bawankule was using his clout to allot road contracts to the firm.
Bawankule, when asked, however, said that Chaudhary was making unfounded accusations for political vendetta.