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Posted at: Aug 13, 2017, 12:42 AM; last updated: Aug 13, 2017, 12:42 AM (IST)

BJP’s Maha CM grapples with his tainted flock

Shiv Kumar in Mumbai
WHEN Prime Minister Narendra Modi said ‘Na Khaunga Aur Na Khaane Doonga’ in the run-up to the 2014 elections, few of his party colleagues in Maharashtra appeared paying heed.

The BJP-led Devendra Fadnavis government which took office after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has been facing one corruption scandal after another. The name of Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde was the first to figure in the chikki (food and other items meant for schoolchildren) scam though she barely managed to keep her job. Senior BJP leader and contender for the top job in Maharashtra, Eknath Khadse, was not lucky. Khadse had to quit as revenue minister after allegations of corruption.

The latest to have dirt smeared on them are Housing Minister Prakash Mehta and senior Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai who are accused of favouring builders in mega residential projects. Here are the latest cases:

Eknath Khadse

A contender for the top job till the RSS top brass in Nagpur plumbed for local boy Devendra Fadnavis. Khadse was placated with several important portfolios in the cabinet including Revenue, Agriculture and fisheries. A fierce critic of Fadnavis in public and private, Khadse had his comeuppance when an activist Hemant Gawande filed a corruption complaint against him.

The complaint said Khadse misused his position as minister to transfer land which was earmarked for the proposed Bhosari Industrial Estate near Pune by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) to his wife, son-in-law and other relatives. It was alleged that Khadse's family purchased land worth Rs 31 crore for Rs 3.75 crore from the original owner. 

The complainant says Khadse clan stood to gain as much as Rs 80 crore since the government hiked compensation for land acquired for the project. After the complainant approached the Bombay High Court, an FIR was filed by the Anti-Corruption Bureau. Sources within the BJP  say Fadnavis used the occasion to get rid of a critic in his Cabinet by getting Khadse to resign.

Pankaja Munde

Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde was accused of flouting rules when she awarded contracts worth Rs 206 crore to certain companies that were to provide chikkis to students under the mid-day meal programme.

Of particular interest was the contract given to one organization, the Suryakanta Mahila Audyogik Sanstha (SMAS), for Rs 113 crore. Congress party leader Sachin Sawant alleged that the contract was awarded at the rate of Rs 285 per kg of chikki without inviting tenders even though other suppliers provided chikki at Rs 127 per kg.

Munde was accused of getting Government Resolution (GR) issued by overruling then industries development commissioner Radhika Rastogi who recommended calling for tenders for the supply of chikki. Pankaja, who is in the cabinet by virtue of being the daughter of the late BJP heavyweight Gopinath Munde, managed to scrape through on the grounds of inexperience following intervention of top BJP leaders. She continues as minister with the same portfolio.

Prakash Mehta

Housing Minister Prakash Mehta, said to be close to BJP president Amit Shah, is the latest to face the heat for his closeness to some builders. Mehta is accused of favouring certain builders for developing a slum pocket at Tardeo in Central Mumbai. The concessions given by Mehta's ministry would have fetched the builder Rs 500 crore in profit, NCP leader Ajit Pawar said in the state assembly recently.

Soon afterwards, it came to light that Mehta had allowed private builders to redevelop a sprawling slum in his constituency of Ghatkopar instead of the state-owned Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority. In this case it is still not clear which builder would have tended to benefit from the concession granted by the minister. Fadnavis sought to defuse the situation by ordering a probe though he has allowed Mehta to continue as minister.

Subhash Desai

A close confidante of the Thackeray family, Subhash Desai is known in Mumbai as the publisher of party mouthpiece Saamna. As industries minister, Desai is accused of playing to the builders’ lobby by denotifying 12,000 hectares near Igatpuri outside Mumbai. The land was acquired by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation for an industrial estate. Desai denies any wrongdoing and blames the previous Congress-NCP government for forcibly trying to acquire farmland. He brazened it out by saying he was only correcting a wrong done by the previous government.

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