The government Wednesday found itself in a tight spot after the Opposition levelled charges of corruption against Tribal Development Minister Vishnu Sawra in the purchase of raincoats for tribal children.
Leader of Opposition (LoP) Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil attacked Sawra, claiming to have ‘irrefutable evidence’ to show that some of the firms enrolled as suppliers for the raincoats were bogus entities.
Naming at least five such ‘bogus’ suppliers, the LoP even presented the ‘evidence’ to the Chair, demanding the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the ‘scam.’ At the start of the Monsoon Session on July 18, the Opposition had signalled that it would go after ‘tainted’ ministers.
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On March 10 this year, the Tribal Department had issued e-tenders to buy raincoats for 1.91 lakh students in tribal schools. The government’s purchase policy 2015-16 has made e-tendering mandatory for all purchases over Rs 3 lakh.
What has, however, led to questions is that Sawra’s department stayed these proceedings on June 24.
The government later ordered that the purchase be made locally under a rate contract by enhancing financial powers of principals of these tribal schools up to Rs 3 lakh.
While Sawra defended the move, saying the “alternate arrangement” had been made to avoid delays in providing raincoats to the children, the Opposition alleged it was done to subvert the e-tendering process.
“The move to enhance financial powers of the Principals was just a front. What took place is that a big supplier in connivance with those holding high offices submitted several bids to grab the contract,” Vikhe-Patil said.
When the minister kept dodging the Opposition’s demand for an independent probe, the LoP intensified his attack. “You are avoiding an SIT probe since you are yourself complicit in the matter,” Vikhe-Patil told the minister.
“You are the LoP. You can make such allegations. It’s okay. I have already ordered a departmental probe in the matter. But if the Opposition wants, I’m willing to get the inquiry conducted by another department (Industries),” Sawra countered.
NCP’s Jayant Patil demanded an Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) probe into the matter.
The treasury benches tried to defend themselves by citing that the Bombay High Court had stayed the e-tendering process on July 14. But NCP’s Dilip Walse Patil and Hasan Mushrif were quick to point out that the department had stayed the process before that.
Senior ministers Pankaja Munde and Prakash Mehta attempted to rescue Sawra. Some BJP MLAs also rose in is defence, but relief came only with the Speaker’s chair suddenly ending the discussion, reasoning that it had far exceeded the time limit.
Vikhe-Patil fired one last salvo. “I have with me notings from the chief minister where he has passed negative remarks on the purchase,” Vikhe-Patil said. However, it was later revealed that the noting dealt with purchases ordered by the department in June 2015, where the rate contract route was opted for.
“It has become a regular practice that the e-tender is being managed in some departments,” Fadnavis’s noting states.