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Wednesday, April 08, 2020

More trouble for Pankaja Munde — it’s water projects this time

Allegations emerged that Pankaja Munde may have interfered with the government’s tendering process for two contracts for water conservation projects in Parbhani district.

By: Express News Service | Mumbai | Updated: July 1, 2015 12:00:10 am
pankaja munde, pankaja munder corruption, pankaja munde scam, pankaja munde water projects, pankaja munde water contract, pankaja munde illegal asset, india news, mumbai news Pankaja Munde in Mumbai on Tuesday. (Source: Express Photo by Prashant Nadkar)

Days after being accused of irregularities in awarding contracts worth Rs 206 crore for purchase of various items in anganwadi schools, Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde seems to have landed in fresh trouble as allegations emerged that she may have interfered with the government’s tendering process for two contracts for water conservation projects in Parbhani district.

The contracts were eventually awarded to a bidder who was originally disqualified on technical grounds, allegedly after Munde’s office stepped in.

The allegations pertain to two contracts in Parbhani for works under the state government’s flagship initiative, the Jalyukt Shivar Yojana, meant for drought-proofing villages. The contracts, collectively worth nearly Rs 1.40 crore, were awarded to Sunil Hitech, a company presided over by Munde aide and BJP politician Ratnakar Gutte.

Documents including tender documents, a letter from the water conservation department’s deputy secretary and notings by Munde’s private secretary on another official communication show that while Gutte’s firm emerged as the lowest bidder, his company was disqualified during scrutiny of the bids. The reason cited was that a clause requiring bidders to digitally sign all pages of the bid documents had not been complied with. Official documents also show that the office of Maharashtra’s Chief Engineer (Minor Irrigation Projects) then recommended that both the contracts be awarded to the second lowest eligible bidder, Vijay Construction.

However, Gutte reportedly approached Munde’s office. As per the documents, Munde, who heads the state’s water conservation department, convened a meeting in this regard on April 23 this year. Following the meeting, Munde’s private secretary, Dr Naresh Gite, remarked on an official note to the water conservation department officials that the “minister had directed that necessary action be taken to process the bid of the lowest bidder to avoid loss to the state exchequer.” A day later, the department’s deputy secretary, V S Vakhare, issued an communication to the Aurangabad divisional commissioner referring to the minister’s directives and stating that “appropriate action be taken.” Acting on the directive, the Parbhani district committee for Jalyukt Shivar works relaxed the tender clause regarding digital signatures and overturned Sunil Hitech’s disqualification. Senior government officials, on condition of anony-mity, said the action of the minister’s office amounted to “violation of the tender’s sanctity.”

Munde, who returned from London on Tuesday morning, avoided speaking on the controversy. Her office said she would respond at a press conference on Wednesday.

When contacted, Prabhakar Deshmukh, principal secretary, water conservation department, said: “The decision regarding relaxation of the tender condition was not taken at the government level. It was taken at the collector level. The government only cited the representation it had received and passed information for appropriate action to be taken in this regard.”

Deshmukh, however, refused to comment on the remarks entered by Munde’s private secretary on the official communication regarding the tenders.

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