Allegations against Pankaja Munde bring family feud to forehttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/pankaja-munde-controversy-allegations-bring-family-feud-to-fore/

Allegations against Pankaja Munde bring family feud to fore

Estranged cousin Dhananjay was the initial ‘whistleblower’; WCD dept stands by Pankaja.

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Maharashtra’s Women and Child development minister Pankaja Munde.

The feud within the Munde family has come to fore in the wake of allegations of corruption against Maharashtra’s BJP minister and (late) Gopinath Munde’s daughter Pankaja.

At the centre of it is Pankaja’s estranged cousin Dhananjay, who switched over to the Nationalist Congress Party in 2013, following political differences with Gopinath Munde’s family. He was the initial “whistleblower” in the controversy.

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Dhananjay, who is now the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council, has frequently locked horns with Pankaja in local and cooperative political battles.

Sources said Dhananjay, who first raised irregularities in anganwadi contracts, had even approached Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s office in this regard in May this year. Later, information on whose basis the allegations were made found its way to the local media.

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The Congress coined it as the first major scam of the Fadnavis government, and pegged it at Rs 206 crore. Armed with documents, the Congress, through its spokesperson Sachin Sawant, lodged a formal complaint with the state’s anti-corruption bureau (ACB). Dhananjay was unavailable for comments.

Principal Secretary (Women & Child Department) Sanjay Kumar has issued a clarification.

It was alleged that purchase of several items including chikkis, mats, dishes, and books, etc required by 60,000-odd anganwadis in the state was cleared through 24 rate contracts issued by way of Government Resolution (GRs) on a single day, February 13, 2015, in violation of government rules.

Kumar said no rule had been violated and the contracts were issued as per standard government procedure. “The Centre released an additional Rs 122 crore for anganwadis in 20 districts at the rate of 1 per child enrolled in February. With the state finance department disallowing any new contracts to be floated post February 15, the contracts were brought out on a single day to avoid lapse of central funds. Those allotted the contracts were from a list maintained by the Centre and the state Industries department,” Kumar said.

On Wednesday, Fadnavis defended Pankaja stating, “Prima facie there appears to be no wrongdoing.”

Kumar Thursday reiterated Fadnavis’s stand that fresh curbs on rate contracts were imposed much after these had been allotted. “Even other departments including social justice, health, and tribal development allotted similar rate contracts for purchase of items,” Kumar added.

Commenting on an allegation that workbooks for students were brought at a cost of Rs 5.6 crore from a Navi Mumbai-based firm though the cheque had been issued to its owner Bhanudas Tekawade in his personal capacity at the instance of Pankaja, Kumar said, “We verified details. The cheque was issued to the same contractor allotted the work. All norms were followed.”
The Congress alleged that Munde raised the cost of water filters for anganwadis procured from a Nashik-based firm, Everest, to Rs 5,200 per unit even as Vinita Singhal, Commissioner, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), originally proposed Rs 4,500.

“The initial proposal was for procurement of only water filters. The rates only increased since the department and the minister decided to procure filters with 25-litre storage tanks. The rate at which these were purchased was as per finalized rate contracts,” Kumar said. The department denied allegations of wrongdoing in purchase of growth monitoring machines to weigh undernourished children and procurement of a medicine kit.

Meanwhile, the government sought a report regarding complaints of contamination of chikki distributed in Ahmednagar district. “We are awaiting results,” Kumar said, adding that investigators will check if chikki was supplied by the local Zilla Parishad.

Govt orders social audit of items bought for anganwadis

Facing allegations of irregularities in purchase of items for children enrolled in 60,000-odd anganwadis in the state, the government has opted to go for a social audit. “The list of beneficiaries and the items distributed will now be read out in gram sabhas,” Principal Secretary (WCD) Sanjay Kumar said Thursday. The finance department issued a government resolution directing all departments, statutory corporations, and local bodies to take the prevalent market rate for a commodity into account before finalising tenders for purchase of items. “The estimated cost of the indented item must correspond to the prevalent market price of the item,” the GR issued by Deputy Secretary (Finance ) Narayan Ringane reads. The government has ruled that the estimated cost must be duly certified by local purchase committees.