Maharashtra Minister Pankaja Munde was at the centre of a controversy with the Congress accusing her of involvement in a "scam" by clearing purchases worth Rs 206 crore through Government Resolutions on a single day instead of inviting tenders, in violation of the norms.
The alleged purchases relate to a host of items including snacks, mats, dishes and books for children under the integrated child development services by the women and child development ministry which Munde heads.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, in a late evening statement on Wednesday, however, defended her.
Fadnavis said, "Prima facie there appears to be no wrong-doing. If needed, we will probe the issue. Pankaja called me and she said she had not committed any irregularity and is ready to face any inquiry."
Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan demanded an inquiry by either the Central Bureau of Investigation or the Anti-Corruption Bureau into the alleged irregularities, which he described as serious. "Somebody will have to explain. An investigation under the ACB or the CBI should be conducted. The CM will have to explain. This is very serious and suspicious. This is a complete fraud. The PM must answer," Chavan said.
Asked if he would demand Munde's resignation, Chavan said, "Be it Pankaja Munde or Vinod Tawade (education minister caught in a row over educational qualification), this government would not remove anyone. After all, this is the policy of the Modi government to brazen out all allegations."
Munde, however, denied any wrong-doing. In an emailed statement, she said, "I feel I should be given a fair chance to present our side... I have very closely observed my decisions and taken best step as much as possible for my department."
Munde claimed she had not broken any rules and had taken some "dynamic decisions to reduce corruption". "I m here to do the best for those kids n women n I will do...I will come bk n all set to answer since I m cofident of my decisions n intentions (sic).." she said.
Pankaja, daughter of Bharatiya Janata Party's Maharashtra stalwart late Gopinath Munde, also said her family had gone through a lot of stress (following her father's death in a car crash) in the last two years and, as her son was not well, she had gone on a break to provide him "motherly touch".
An official in her department had said earlier the minister was out of India and was expected to return on June 28.
As per Maharashtra government's norms, any purchase above Rs 3 lakh has to be done through e-tendering.
Munde said her decision to check corruption had "troubled" some "money-minded" people and that she was not scared of such accusations.
For years the women and child development department had been neglected and was taken "less seriously", she said, adding that "I as a minister (have) taken some dynamic decision to reduce corruption...has also troubled some money minded bunch of ppl (sic) involved...I hv not broken any rules as far I m concerned n also not feared any allegations".
Senior BJP leader and Maharashtra Minister Eknath Khadse, while responding to the allegations, said, "The Opposition keeps on levelling charges. We don't take them seriously until they submit proof."
BJP spokesperson Shaina NC said the opposition had levelled allegations "to be in news". "The opposition wants to be in the news. If Munde has done anything, it should be substantiated with proof."
Accusing the BJP and the Centre of double-speak, Congress' media department chief Randeep Surjewala said, "We hope that the BJP and its government will seriously investigate the way they used to say 'na khayenge, na khane denge' and will provide a corruption-free government. "We hope that they will, before 1.25 crore people of India, prove that they do what they say," he said, adding "as layers and layers of corruption get unveiled, one leader after another of the BJP is getting exposed. First it was the external affairs minister helping a fugitive of law and a black money hoarder, we also saw forged degrees of Irani and now....Pankaja Munde."
Image: Maharashtra Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde