Day after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray ordered a full-fledged investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in a government company formed for the welfare of Maratha youth, some more skeletons tumbled out of the company’s closet.
The company, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj Research Training and Human Development Institute (SARTHI) at Pune, was formed on June 26, 2018 by the Devendra Fadnavis-led government, in the backdrop of state-wide protests carried out by the dominant Maratha community.
Mandated to provide guidance and training to Maratha community students appearing for competitive exams and research fellowships, Sarthi is now facing accusations of diverting government funds, meant for the targeted students, for other purposes without the government’s knowledge and approval. An internal government communication, a copy of which has been obtained by The Indian Express, has alleged that only Rs 2.75 crore out of the Rs 23.66 crore, roughly 12 per cent, released by the government were used for student welfare, while the rest were allegedly diverted for purchases and work that did not have government’s approval.
On Thursday, it came to light that Sarthi’s management had ordered the purchase of books worth Rs 1 crore without any government approval or following procurement norms. Raising allegations of a conflict of interest, it has been found that the company had even purchased 5,500 copies of a book — Mahatma Phule Yancha Vaicharik Charitra — authored by scholar and writer Dr Sadanand More, who is also Sarthi’s chairman.
A government inquiry has also alleged that the company, in violation of norms, had extended a mobilisation advance of Rs 63 lakh to state book publisher, Balbharti, for procuring 50,000 copies of another book on Maratha warrior king, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. A preliminary inquiry by a committee headed by senior bureaucrat, Kishore Raje Nimbalkar, has also found that despite the large-scale procurement, the library in the institute’s campus had just about 500 books.
Reached for comment, More refuted allegations raised against the firm. “There is no truth in the allegations being raised. We haven’t gone beyond the rules and objectives set out by the government and the Companies Act,” he said, while also defending the purchase of his own books.
After Maharashtra’s Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta briefed the state cabinet about the irregularities on January 15, Thackeray had asked Nimbalkar to probe the allegations. After Nimbalkar discussed his findings during the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Thackeray ordered a detailed investigation into the matter. An inquiry has also been ordered against Sarthi’s Managing Director D R Parihar, a retired IFS officer, in the matter.
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