A high-level committee probing accusations of siphoning off tribal welfare funds has indicted former Maharashtra minister Vijay Kumar Gavit, now a BJP MLA. The former NCP leader was Maharashtra’s Tribal Development Minister.
Besides Gavit, the committee has recommended action against over 50 serving and retired government officials for illegalities and dereliction of duty. Some senior bureaucrats have been named.
Gavit, who joined the BJP in 2014, is MLA from Nandurbar.
Following directives of the Bombay High Court, the Maharashtra government had, on April 15, 2014, appointed a five-member committee under Justice (Retd.) MG Gaikwad for probing allegations that a well-oiled nexus between politicians, officials, and contractors had siphoned off Rs 6000 crore in tribal funds between 2004 and 2012 through “dubious” welfare schemes. Earlier, a public litigation was filed in the HC by Bahiram Motiram and Gulab Pawar where Gavit, who was at the helm from 2004 to 2009, his successor Babanrao Pachpute (also with the BJP now), former minister of state Rajendra Gavit (Congress), and Gavit’s brother Sharad Gavit were accused of taking graft. While the committee found no evidence against the latter three, it held Vijay Gavit accountable on certain counts. On April 27, Chief Justice Manjula Chellur directed the committee to make its report available to the petitioner. The Indian Express has a copy 7of the panel’s findings.
The panel has found that the Tribal department under Gavit misdirected welfare schemes. The committee has observed that the same contractors were allotted supply contracts without following a tendering process. Justice (Retd.) Gaikwad, when contacted, said, “The first thing required while devising a welfare scheme is to identify beneficiaries. But this was just not done. There are several instances where the distribution was made to ineligible persons. Also there is almost no record to show that the purchased goods were distributed at all.” The committee has ruled that between 2004 and 2009, there was misappropriation of at least Rs 73 crore in 23 project offices across Maharashtra. The committee has recommended prosecution action against all those responsible. “The schemes were not prepared by the government or the project offices. Schemes formulated by contractors were adopted without verifying feasibility. This was a fraud,” said Gaikwad.
In Maharashtra, about 9 per cent of the state’s budget is set aside for welfare of tribal families. The PIL had alleged corruption in contracts for purchase and supply of various items, including foodgrains and mattresses for tribal residential schools, distribution of milch cattle to tribal families, supply and fitting of oil pumps and high density polyethylene pipes in farms, supply of gas braziers, oil burners and common utensils to households, and the sanctioning of cycle marts and grocery shops. The petitioners had argued that the tendering process had not been followed in any of these, and that the intended benefit never reached the beneficiary, but was diverted. The panel has found these allegations to be true.
It has directly blamed Gavit for alleged irregularities in purchase, transportation, and supply of oil pumps for tribal farms. Agreeing to the petitioner’s contention that the contract for their purchase was overpriced, the panel has stated that “it was Gavit’s directives asking officials to await decision on rate contracts for 2007-08 instead of direct tendering of the contracts that had caused a multi-crore loss to the state exchequer.” The loss in 2007-08 has been calculated at Rs 3.91 crore. While there were illegalities in the same purchase between 2004 and 2006, the committee has blamed the then managing director of the Tribal Development Corporation (TDC) for ordering these purchases without any authority.
The then executive committee of the TDC, of which Gavit was the president, has been charged with illegally allocating a contract for the transportation and fitting of these oil pumps. The contract was reportedly allocated to Nandurbar-based Akashdeep Society. The petitioners have submitted evidence before the court showing that many of the pumps were sold to private individuals in Gujarat. The committee’s report echoed this. “Between 2004 and 2009, a total of 7,758 oil pumps were found illegally disposed of without distribution to intended beneficiaries,” it states. For this, the panel has accused regional-level managers, electricians, and godown staff in ten local tribal offices of misappropriation of Rs 14.90 crore. The Nandurbar contractor was also paid Rs 1.96 crore in excess, the committee has found.
The Gavit-led executive committee has been faulted for irregularities in the scheme for supply of gas units and burners to poor tribal households.
“The scheme was undertaken without identifying beneficiaries. We found that 27,602 gas units were illegally disposed of, committing an offence of Rs 7.32 crore. The executive committee ordered the supply and the purchase of gas burners without assessing the requirement of beneficiaries. While 1.23 lakh gas burners were purchased from Meera Decor, the hasty action meant 25,527 remained undistributed and rusted with time. This led to a loss of another Rs 3.65 crore. Also, several gas agencies were paid an advance that is yet to be recovered. Due to negligence of the executive committee and a monitoring panel (under it), the scheme dragged on for ten years,” the report contended.
When contacted, Gavit told The Indian Express, “I’m yet to read the report. I’ll be in a position to comment in detail only after going through it. But you can’t blame a minister for discrepancies in implementation at the local level.”
He denied any malafide intent in his decision to opt for a rate contract for purchase of oil pumps. “We opted for a rate contract since the tendering process would have taken time. The due process was followed,” he said.
The petitioner’s advocate Rajendra Raghuvanshi said the committee’s findings vindicate their stand that corruption was rampant in the department. “The state government must immediately prosecute all those guilty,” he said.
The committee has recommended an independent vigilance cell and an inspection cell to monitor implementation of tribal schemes. It has recommended direct bank cash transfer to beneficiaries to avoid diversion of funds. It has also asked the government to appoint IAS officers to head all tribal project offices.