Supreme Court annuls contracts worth Rs 6,300 crore

Mumbai: The Supreme Court has struck down tenders of Rs 6,300 crore issued by the women and child welfare ministry headed by Pankaja Munde, observing that norms were tweaked to favour big players and industrialists. Munde’s ministry had floated the consolidated tender on March 8, 2016, after obtaining the consent from the state cabinet on February 23, 2016.

The purpose of the tenders was to allot contracts for supply of the Take Home Ration (THR) to anganwadis for five years, extendable by another two years.  A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta pronounced the order on February 26. The SC rap is a blow for the state government in an election year. The petitioner in the case, Vaishnorani Mahila Bachat Gat, had objected to the insistence on the extrusion-based technology for the manufacture of the THR mixtures and the condition regarding annual financial turnover in the tender notice. The petitioner argued, it effectively ruled out the participation of local self-help groups (SHGs) in the tender and these conditions could only be satisfied by big companies.

The SC, upholding the judgment of the Aurangabad bench of the HC, has noted that by introducing the extrusion technology condition, the government had selected three Mahila Mandals — the Maharashtra Mahila Sahakari Grihaudyog Sanstha (Dhule), the Venkateshwara Mahila Audyogic Utpadan Sahakari Sanstha (Latur), the Mahalaxmi Mahila Grihaudyog and the Balvikas Bahuuddeshiya Audyogic Sahakari Sanstha. These were earlier found to be acting as fronts for existing companies and industrialists.

“The SHGs are fully equipped and competent to supply the said food,” stated the order made public on Friday. The court also criticised the state government for “wrongly representing” to it, that the Centre had issued specific recommendations for the issue of extrusion technology, when no such recommendations existed. Furthermore, the court objected to the state’s decision to enhance the area of supply for food contracts by forming 70 blocks at the district level. The three firms mentioned earlier were allowed to continue with the contracts for most of the remaining project sites on the grounds that they had been in this supply business since 2009.

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