Fadnavis Government Hit by Second Scam Allegation, This Time Over Minister Vinod Tawde

Maharashtra Education Minister Vinod Tawde

Mumbai: Another minister in the BJP-led Maharashtra government, Vinod Tawde, is caught in controversy over the award of a contract for fire extinguishers for schools, allegedly without a tender.

Mr Tawde, who handles the education portfolio, is the second minister in the seven-month-old Devendra Fadnavis government to face allegations of financial irregularity in award of contracts. The state's Minister for Women and Child Welfare Development Pankaja Munde has been accused by the opposition of a nearly 200-crore scam.

The Congress is out on the streets on Mumbai demanding the resignation of both ministers.

Maharashtra's finance department had in January this year stopped a 191-crore purchase order issued by Mr Tawde's ministry for fire extinguishers for government-run schools. It said a Supreme Court order had made the installation of fire extinguishers mandatory only for school buildings more than a floor high. Sources said only 19 crore had been sanctioned for fire extinguishers in schools.

"The Finance Department has raised objections, we are clarifying to them on the issue," Mr Tawde told NDTV today, adding, "I have not given a single rupee to any contractor."

Maharashtra's Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, whose department raised objections to the contract, says there is no cause for controversy. "The Finance Ministry raised objections based on Supreme Court guidelines. This is an old file.The Education Minister himself had stopped the file after the objection."

"This is a conspiracy to defame the government," said Mr Mungantiwar.

The Fadnavis government has also so far firmly backed Pankaja Munde, who arrived in Mumbai from the US this morning.

The Congress claims that it has documents to prove that Ms Munde, 35, violated rules earlier this year for a transparent tendering process while sanctioning contracts, also allegedly without a tender, for items like snacks, books and water filters for government-run schools that educate tribal children.

The BJP's partner in the Maharashtra government, the Shiv Sena, has said the charges against Ms Munde "are serious."

Ms Munde has said there has been "no violation of rules." She told supporters today that she would "never do anything that harms the legacy of my father." Her father, Gopinath Munde, was hugely popular Maharashtra leader who died in a road accident last year.