Days after Pankaja Munde was accused of corruption in awarding contracts worth Rs 206 crore, her colleague in the Maharashtra government, Education Minister Vinod Tawde, is facing allegations of irregularities in a contract awarded by him.
The finance department has sought a detailed probe into allegations of irregularities in a Rs 191 crore contract awarded by Tawde’s School Education Department without e-tendering. The contract, cleared by Tawde, was put on hold after the finance department objected to it.
The case pertains to the supply of fire extinguishers to 62,105 zilla parishad schools in Maharashtra.
On February 11, 2015, Tawde’s department issued a government resolution authorising the office of the Education Director (Primary) to enter into a rate contract to supply the fire extinguishers. Each fire extinguisher was to be procured for Rs 8,321 and each school was tobe provided three extinguishers.
“Official communications show that the orders were issued following Tawde’s directives dated January 6,” the finance department stated in an official note.
When contacted, Tawde confirmed he had given the directive. “The file in this regard was first moved during the erstwhile Congress-NCP regime. The then Education Minister (Rajendra Darda) had originally noted in the proposal’s favour,” he said.
Following the government’s orders, Mahavir Mane, Education Director (Primary), awarded the rate contract to Thane-based Reliable Fire Engineers on February 27. The finance department’s approval was not taken before authorising or signing the rate contract.
But after senior bureaucrats in the finance department objected and pointed to alleged irregularities in the contract, the education department stayed its earlier order on March 4.
The finance department note states that by then, the contractor had already raised a bill of Rs 6.20 crore for the supply of 6,047 extinguishers. This, it noted, was raised in a single day on March 2. Senior officials in the education department confirmed that further supplies had been halted after the finance department raised objections.
Tawde said he himself plans to order a probe into the matter.
The finance department’s note observes that contracts worth Rs 191 crore were entered into by the department even though it had just Rs 19 crore in budgeted funds for the purchase of “miscellaneous items” for zilla parishad schools.
Bijay Kumar, Principal Secretary, Finance, also pointed in the note that the dealer which was allotted the work was not on the government’s rate contract list. Tawde, however, claimed “the beneficiary contractor existed on the central government’s rate contract list”. He added that this information had been shared with the finance department.
Kumar also questioned the department’s justification in ordering the mass purchase.
The education department’s government resolution, issued following Tawde’s approval, states that a Supreme Court directive dated July 22, 2004 had directed all public and private schools to install fire safety apparatus. Kumar, however, said the SC directive had been cited “out of context”.
Tawde defended his move saying, “The then education minister (Darda) had noted on the file that the SC directives be followed. When it was later placed before me in January, I noted on the file that considering the SC ruling and security of students, fire extinguishers be purchased following all norms and as per availability of funds. I had specifically also said that the finance department’s permission be sought if additional funds are required.”
He claimed the file was placed before him in January. “Since there wasn’t enough time to float tenders, I instructed officials that a minimum number of fire extinguishers be purchased under rate contract to comply with the SC directives. A tender for procurement of the remaining fire extinguishers was to follow.”
“Following their (finance department’s) initial objections, I informed the department that no payment should be released against the purchase before the finance department okays it. Not a single penny has been paid so far. I plan to order a probe into the matter myself,” Tawde said.
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