The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court will on Tuesday decide the fate of a Rs 9000-crore contract doled out by the Akhjilesh Yadav government to companies run by controversial liquor don Ponty Chaddha, for supply of 'readymade' nutritious food to poor children in government schools and to pregnant women in rural areas of the state.
The court is expected to give its verdict on a petition moved by a company that was excluded from the bid for the contract.
The petitioner accused the UP government of laying down "tailor-made" pre-conditions to suit Ponty Chaddha's firms and to disqualify all other bidders.
"The eligibility criterion laid down by the UP government, to allow only UP- based companies with a minimum annual turnover of Rs 25 crores to participate in the tender, was evidently intended to favour a particular cartel of companies, that were already providing the food supplements since 2005", the petitioner had pointed out.
The petitioner also sought to term these conditions as "violative" of an earlier order of the Supreme Court, ordering preference to be given to NGOs and women-self-help groups for supplying such ready-to-eat food supplements, commonly known as 'panjeeri'.
According to the petitioner's counsel Altaf Mansoori, "The eligibility criterion was clearly tailor-made for Ponty's companies. It was only following reports that the 'panjeeri' supplied in UP's schools was highly sub-standard that the matter was raised before the Supreme Court, which took serious note of the fact that poor quality 'panjeeri' was defeating the very objective of providing better nutrition to poor school-children."
Well-known activist Harsh Mandar was appointed as court commissioner and he too confirmed the allegations.
"Unmindful of the apex court's directives, the UP government went ahead to offer the entire supplies to Ponty's companies, therefore we raised the matter before the high court", the counsel added.
Interestingly, the policy for centralised supply of 'panjeeri' was first introduced in 2005 by the then Mulayam Singh Yadav government. Mulayam's arch rival Mayawati chose to follow the same without any amendments during her five-year rule between 2007 and 2012.
And all that the Akhilesh Yadav government had done was to enhance the overall requirement, thereby extending even bigger favours to Ponty, who had proven how to have his finger in every pie and how to have politicians of all hues in his pocket.
Asked to comment on the violation of Supreme Court guidelines by the UP government, Samajwadi Party general secretary Ram Asrey Kushwaha remarked, "Well, we have utmost regard for the judiciary and if any violation of the court orders is found, we will make suitable amendments."