With a couple of its ministers facing charges of irregularities in items purchased under rate contracts, the Maharashtra government has decided to impose fresh curbs on such contracts. A revised policy for items to be purchased under rate contracts would be rolled out shortly, official sources confirmed.
Rate contracts are contracts for supply of items at specified rates during the period covered for the contract.
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The move to impose new curbs comes amid controversy surrounding multi-crore contracts awarded under the model by BJP ministers Pankaja Munde and Vinod Tawde.
Sources in the finance department said the government planned to cap the maximum amount that could be spent for purchase of an item under rate contracts to Rs 2 crore a year at the state level and Rs 50 lakh at the collector level under its revised policy.
Contracts awarded by Munde for purchase of various items for aanganwadis were collectively worth Rs 206 crore, whereas Tawde’s school education department had granted administrative approval for a Rs 191-crore contract involving supply of three fire extinguishers in each of the 62,105 zilla parishad schools in Maharashtra.
This contract was stayed after the finance department raised strong objections.
The government Tuesday announced a probe into the allegations of irregularities raised by the finance department in the fire extinguisher contract.
Taking a cue from the allegations, the new policy would also specify the circumstances and the kind of items that could be purchased under the controversy-riddled method, said the sources.
Besides revising its policy for rate contracts, the government also plans to bring down the time for finalising contracts awarded under the e-tendering method.
Meanwhile, the government appears to be headed for legal trouble in the fire extinguisher row. While it has stayed the contract and even stopped the payment for fire extinguishers supplied under the contract, Hemal Joshi, proprietor, Reliable Fire Engineers, said his firm would drag the government to court if the payments for 6,047 fire extinguishers supplied in schools before the stay was invoked was not granted.
Vijay Kale, marketing manager, Intime Fire Appliances Pvt Ltd, which has manufactured these extinguishers under the awarded rate contract, echoed Joshi.
After the education department granted an administrative approval for the purchase on February 11 this year, Education Director (Primary) Mahavir Mane had issued orders on February 27 for procurement of the extinguishers from Joshi’s firm at Rs 8,321 per cylinder.
But, after the finance department questioned the contract, the department stayed the approval on March 4. Joshi’s firm raised a bill of Rs 6.2 crore on March 2 for supplies made between February 27 and March 2.
On Tuesday, Tawde declared that the state won’t release this amount pending a probe into allegations of irregularities. Joshi, however, said Wednesday, “We will wait for some more days. We would have to resort to a court battle otherwise.”
He added, “We had a valid government order and supplied extinguishers as per this order. Why should our payments be held up?”