SENIOR BJP leader and Maharashtra’s Cooperation, Marketing and Textiles Minister Subhash Deshmukh finds himself in a spot of bother.
On Thursday, the state agriculture department issued an order, revoking a grant worth Rs 24.81 crore, which had been sanctioned to Deshmukh’s family-led Lokmangal Multistate Cooperative Housing (LMCHS) Limited in Solapur, earlier this year.
According to the department, the order was issued in the wake of a probe report, which had revealed that the firm had allegedly made use of bogus documents to avail the grant.
On January 19, the department had sanctioned the grant to LMCHS, under the Centre’s Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, for a 10-metric tonne milk powder project and the expansion of an existing dairy plant. Deshmukh had himself founded the LMCHS. His son, Rohan, is now at a helm of affairs.
Armed with the department’s order, the Congress in Maharashtra demanded Deshmukh’s sacking from the state Cabinet. It had earlier released LMCHS’ own documents to show that the decision of setting up the milk powder project and availing the central grant had been taken by it in 2015, when Deshmukh was still leading the firm.
Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam said, “The government’s order on Thursday further confirms that there was wrongdoing in the matter and that the minister (Deshmukh) has abused his official position. He must be sacked, and a criminal case be registered against him.”
Deshmukh has been avoiding a comment on the controversy. He remained unavailable even on Thursday.
But the LMCHS had earlier issued an official statement, which had been endorsed by its current managing director, where it had contended that “it had itself sought the probe after receiving complaints in this regard.” In an apparent attempt to distance the minister and his family from the controversy, it had further contended that the “responsibility of procuring the various permissions (to avail the grant) had been given to a private consultant.” It had stated that the accusations being raised now were “politically motivated”.
But the department’s order claimed that the Maharashtra’s Lokayukta, too, had pressed for action against the firm. While LMCHS had earlier claimed that the installments totalling Rs 5 crore towards the grants, which had already been released, won’t be spent till the government’s investigation is over, the department’s latest order has also directed the Pune-based dairy development commissioner’s office to recover the released amount from the firm, while permitting LMCHS to apply afresh. On November 12, Principal Secretary (Agriculture, Dairy Development, and Fisheries) Anoop Kumar had convened a hearing over the controversy, where LMCHS had argued that the documents that were submitted by it (for availing the grant) had been legally procured for a group company that had leased the land to LMCHS. But this contention was denied.
Interestingly, Congress’ initial accusation against Deshmukh and the firm in this regard was on the basis of a government investigation. On October 4, Solapur’s dairy development officer (DDO) had submitted a report to his superior — regional DDO, Pune — where it was recorded that an investigation had found that the LMCHS had furnished the “bogus” documents.
According to records, a complaint from Solapur-based resident Apparao More — who has also approached the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) in the matter — to the dairy development commissioner (DDC) and the state’s dairy development department, in August, had led to the probe being ordered.
As part of the investigation, Solapur’s DDO had approached various departments for accessing records of the respective permits shown to have been procured. In response, five departments — the WD, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, the Maharashtra State Electricity Board, the Food and Drugs department, and the Labour department — had confirmed that the permits, submitted by the LMCHS as being obtained from them, weren’t authentic.
On September 14, the deputy divisional engineer of the PWD in Solapur wrote that the “department had issued no permit to LMCHS.” He contended that the “official signatures had been forged.”
Similarly, on September 6, the FDA’s Solapur wing informed that “it’d not issued any permit to the LMCHS”. It contended that the permit submitted by the LMCHS (to avail the grant) had actually been issued to another group company, Lokmangal Products Limited, which operates from an independent address. On September 7, deputy director (Security and Health), Solapur, also informed that “license to operate had not been issued to LMCHS.” He claimed that the document issued to Lokmangal Biotech Private Limited (another group firm) had been used.
On September 25, Solapur collector’s office confirmed that “it had not yet found a record to show that the NA (non agricultural) permit had been issued”. The DDO had also found that four of the milk processing and chilling centres shown as being part of the project were inoperational during an inspection on June 26, while another one was found non-existing. On August 27, the dairy commissioner’s office had deferred the further release og grants to LMCHS till further orders.