Maharashtra minister Vinod Tawade's OSD found tweaking government resolution to suit personal agenda
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis have both emphasised on the need to eliminate corruption from the corridors of power, but it appears the message has been lost somewhere along the way.
In Maharashtra, the minority welfare department had directed the gram panchayats to distribute aid meant for the upfliftment of the marginalised communities. However, the government resolution (GR) that was subsequently issued was found to have included names of districts which weren't part of the scheme. Nine out of 18 districts mentioned in the list of beneficiaries weren't supposed to receive aid, it was later discovered.
Principal secretary to the minority welfare and Wakf department, Shyam Tagade, realised the names of many gram panchayats in the list which shouldn't have been there. It was discovered that the GR was modified later, in order to include additional districts.
Tagade pulled up the desk officer Shashikant Salunkhe for modifying the original GR, which is when he informed Tagade that he did so at the behest of Charudutt Shinde, officer on special duty for minority affairs minister Vinod Tawade.
According to documents accessed by Firstpost, the original GR was issued on 31 March, 2017. As per this resolution, a total of Rs 6.22 crore in aid was to be disbursed to gram panchayats spread across 18 different districts of Maharashtra. These districts were purportedly suffering from inadequate infrastructure like concrete roads and gutters; their cemeteries were said to be lacking walls, etc. The government had sanctioned funds to be released, to ensure the infrastructure is developed in these districts.
However, it was later learnt that the original list was supposed to contain only nine districts; the other nine names were added by Salunkhe on his own. These nine are — Nashik, Dhule, Kolhapur, Raigad, Beed, Jalna, Usmanabad, Buldhana and Bhandara. This change was also made without the local MLAs' permissions.
After the malpractice came to light, the department issued a fresh GR on 29 April, saying the nine districts which were erroneously added have been removed from the list, which would mean a budgetary reduction of Rs 2.20 crore.
In addition to this, the department also suspended Salunkhe, and sent him a showcause notice asking why he did he not write to the principal secretary saying Shinde, OSD to the minority affairs minister, was pressuring him to change the contents of the GR. To this, Salunkhe replied saying Shinde forced him to change the allocation of funds not only on this occasion, but also on several other instances. Salunkhe further alleged that Shinde would demand bribes from him to the tune of Rs 1 lakh. His letter dated 13 June, a copy of which has been accessed by Firstpost, has Salunkhe stating on record that he paid Shinde Rs 1 lakh near the parking area of the Mantralaya.
Not only this, he said, the very next day, he paid another Rs 28,000, this time directly to the office of Vinod Tawade. Shinde would routinely call him over the telephone and ask him to implement a fresh set of orders, said Salunkhe.
The GR is a government decision which is sent to the offices of the governor, chief minister, minister of state, chief secretary, additional chief secretary, finance department and the auditing department. It's to help them with the requisite allocation of funds. However, in this case, a desk officer was found altering the contents of the GR, not with the MLAs' recommendation, rather on orders from a minister's OSD.
This apart, Firstpost has also learnt that Congress MLA Hunsnbanu Khalipe and BJP MLA Santosh Danve, who is the son of the party state president Raosaheb Danve, are not very happy with the changed distribution of funds. These MLAs are said to have met Tawade and displayed their unhappiness regarding fund allocation and the changes introduced in the GR by Shinde and Salunkhe.
The Opposition also plans to ramp up its demand for Tawade's resignation, and for a probe by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB). Many have raised objections to the fact that while the desk officer was suspended, Shinde still continues to serve the minister. Also, the fraud came to light in April this year, but even today no police complaint has been registered.
When contacted, Shinde told Firstpost that he was on leave. Shinde, a close relative of a Delhi-based Minister of State, is said to be very powerful in Tawade's office.
Tawade didn't answer our calls, but responded to a text message and said he didn't want to comment on the issue, since it's seven months old.
Principal secretary Tagade, however, said that they suspended Salunkhe after realising he added the names of nine districts to a GR that was already issued by the government. "However, he wrote to us saying he only did what the OSD asked him to do. To which we asked him why did he not approach the department with these claims, if the issue took place in March. Salunkhe is still on suspension and a departmental enquiry against him will begin soon," Tagade said.
The issue could provide more fodder for the opposition parties to target Tawade. Nationalist Congress Party chief spokesperson Nawab Malik said Tawade is shielding his OSD. "A desk officer cannot change a GR without the blessing of a higher-up. This is a racket in the Mantralaya. If demands for bribes have come from the office of a state Cabinet minister, it is grounds for a departmental enquiry. We will demand a free and fair probe into this. We want to know how can one man arbitrarily change the GR by himself. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis should take cognisance of the matter and take appropriate action against those involved," he said.
"It's a clear case of corruption. The minister's office was taking a percentage as a bribe for releasing funds under the scheme. The matter needs to be investigated by the ACB, and Tawade should resign from his post until the matter is complete," Malik added.