Mumbai: During hearing on a petition alleging supply of sub-standard chikki (snack) in state-run schools, Maharashtra government today told the Bombay High Court that it had formed a high-power committee to go into purchases of various commodities, including Chikki, made by all departments on ‘rate contract’ basis in the last 15 years.
This committee, set up in November 2015, consisted of Chief Secretary (of government), Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) and Principal Secretary (Industries), Government Pleader Abhinandan Vagyani, told the bench of Justices V M Kanade and Reveti Mohite-Dere.
The panel would examine the purchases made by various departments, including chikki, on rate contract basis from 2001 to 2015, he said.
In a rate contract system, the prices are fixed by the government and the supplier who bags the contract has to supply the items on that basis. The high court is hearing a petition that alleges clay particles were found in chikki supplied to students in state-run schools.
The public interest litigation filed by Sandeep Ahire and others had sought an inquiry by a retired high court judge into the alleged Rs 206-crore chikki scam for which Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde had come under fire. Advocate General Srihari Aney had earlier denied the allegation and said “no clay particles were found in the sample sent to a reputed government lab in Ghaziabad”.
The bench had earlier, in an interim order, restrained the state government from distributing chikki to school students following complaints over its quality. During the hearing of the PIL earlier, the high court had asked the government not to make payments to the contractors who had supplied the chikki for free distribution to students of Anganwadis (primary schools in tribal areas).
Today, Suryakanta Co, which had bagged a contract for supply of food items to school children, pleaded that it had not been paid money by the government as per the contract for supplying chikkis to schools.
It has also filed a civil application seeking a direction to the state to release the funds. The bench would decide the application on January 20. Pankaja Munde has been accused of irregularities in procurement of items worth Rs 206 crore, including chikki.
However, Munde denied allegations and had told high court that she has ordered an inquiry into media reports about the scam. Government had informed the high court earlier that only one report had indicated the presence of clay in chikki while other reports had not said that it was sub-standard. However, Advocate General Srihari Aney said it had sent a sample for lab test in Ghaziabad, which did not show the presence of clay.
The PIL refers to media reports about Munde receiving a complaint from Ahmednagar Zilla Parishad about the chikki provided to tribal students under ICDS. It also mentions the allegation that Munde’s department placed orders for chikki, mats, books, dishes, etc, worth in total Rs 206 crore on a single day without e-tendering.