THE OPPOSITION in Maharashtra has been targeting Education Minister Vinod Tawde for his alleged links to various companies, but it turns out that the BJP-led government has at least three other cabinet ministers and a minister of state who are directors with private firms.
This includes two Shiv Sena ministers associated with private companies operating in the same sectors that fall within their portfolios. Raising questions of conflict of interest, Health Minister Deepak Sawant is chairman of Anideep Eye Hospital and Institute Pvt Ltd and MoS for Housing Ravindra Waikar is on the board of directors of a construction firm, Icchapurti Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, according to records maintained by the Registrar of Companies (RoC).
Besides Sawant and Waikar, BJP ministers Pankaja Munde and Chandrakant Patil, and BJP Minister of State Pravin Pote Patil and Shiv Sena Minister of State Deepak Kesarkar are on the board of directors of private firms, RoC data shows.
Asked about these links, the ministers said they required a source of income and that being associated with private companies did not amount to conflict of interest as long as their position was not being used to further the businesses. Pote Patil and Kesarkar said they had resigned from those positions and that the firms were yet to update RoC records.
The model code of conduct for ministers framed by the Union government states that a minister within two months of assuming office shall sever all connection, short of divesting himself of ownership, with the conduct and management of any business that he was interested in before being appointed as minister.
It adds that the minister may transfer his interest, and even ownership and management, to any adult relative associated with the conduct or management of the business, except the spouse. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, however, had defended Tawde, saying the code of conduct was not constitutionally enforceable.
What will ministers eat: Sawant
Asked about his ties to the eye hospital, Health Minister Sawant said, “How is it conflict of interest if the hospital is a private business not empanelled on any of the government schemes or using any government benefits? A ministerial berth is not life-long. What will a minister eat, how will he bring up his children, provide for his family if he does not have a revenue source? The government doesn’t give ministers money for this. It is fine for ministers to have business interests unless the position is being misused.”
Sawant’s Mumbai-based eye-care firm was incorporated in March 2011 with four directors, including him and his son Swapnesh. Last May, Chief Minister Fadnavis inaugurated the Anideep Eye Hospital in Vile Parle.
No ties with govt: Waikar
Minister of State Waikar, who has been on the board of Ichchhapurti Infrastructure since its incorporation in May 2009, said that being a director of a firm cannot be termed as having a conflict of interest unless the company has dealings with the government.
“I have been this company’s director even before I become a legislator or a minister. One needs to have some profession or business. Being an MLA or a minister cannot be called a profession. My company has not had anything to do with the government,” he said.
Minister needs profession: Patil
Public Works Department Minister Chandrakant Patil is director of Kolhapur-based Telematic Interactive Private Limited, which supplies equipment such as biometric readers, fax machines, and surveillance cameras, since its incorporation in September 2012.
Patil said that if a minister is expected to leave all business interests, his salary should be brought to a level that can take care of his household. “Otherwise, it will only breed corruption if ministers are asked to sever business interests and not given adequate salary. Every minister should have a profession or a business,” Patil said.
The website of Patil’s firm, Telematic Interactive, lists the irrigation department and the Income Tax office among its “esteemed clients”. But Patil said the website lists government clients only because its sister concern (Telematic Engineers) has worked with them, which “adds to the credibility of experience”.
“I was on the board of a company called Telematic Engineers even before I became a legislator. Telematic Engineers did some work for some government departments. I have resigned from the company now. We later set up Telematic Interactive, which does not do any business with the government,” he said. As per RoC records, Patil resigned from Telematic Engineers in May 2014.
Husband says I’m lucky for him: Pankaja
Pankaja Munde, who holds the portfolios of women and child development, rural development, water conservation and employment guarantee scheme, is still on the boards of at least five companies under her post-marriage name — Pankaja Palwe, RoC data show. These are Ridhi Sidhi Shares Pvt Ltd, a financial firm registered in Delhi in which Munde has been director since May 2007, Pune-based Supra Media Pvt Ltd with which she has been associated since June 2013, and Thane-based Nandgopal Milk and Milk Products Pvt Ltd with which she has been additional director since January 2014.
Besides, Munde is also a director with two companies bearing the same name as her son — Aryaman Spaces Private Limited, a Pune-based real estate and renting firm, in which she has been director since June 2008, and Pune-based Aryaman Publicity Private Limited where she has been director since July 2009.
Munde said she is not involved in the functioning of any of these companies, which are mostly her husband’s enterprises. “I don’t have anything to do with the management of these companies, and so long as I don’t use my position to benefit them it is okay. My husband has kept me on the board of these companies because he thinks I am lucky for him,” she said.
Fine if not tied to govt: Pote Patil
As per RoC records, Minister of State for Industries and Mining, Environment and Public Works Pravin Pote Patil is a director on the board of Amravati-based Pravin Builders and Developers (India) Pvt Ltd.
Pote Patil said he had resigned from the company after he became a legislator and that the records were not updated. “But I believe as per the code of conduct a minister should not be involved with a company that works for the government. Otherwise, if an MLA or minister is doing something to earn money and it is not related to the government, it is fine,” the BJP leader said.
As per RoC records, Pote Patil’s most recent designation update on the board was in March 2015, while he was sworn in as Minister of State in December 2014.
Quit, records not updated: Kesarkar
RoC data shows that Minister of State for Finance and Rural Development Deepak Kesarkar is on the board of Sindhudurg-based Innovators Resorts Pvt Ltd. Kesarkar said, “I resigned from my post when I became minister. My resignation is not reflected in RoC records because the company has to complete some technical formalities and filings.”
Meanwhile, Tawde, whose holdings in private firms kicked off the controversy over ministers’ interests in private firms and the model code of conduct, stepped down as directors of all three companies he was associated with soon after the allegations surfaced. As per RoC records, Tawde ceased to be a director of Shree Multimedia Vision Limited, Tawde Nalawade Buildwell Private Limited, and Nashik Marine Feeds Private Limited on February 27.