BJP Mum on Cong’s MPLAD Fund Misuse Charges Against Smriti Irani
Did Smriti Irani misuse funds meant for SAGY scheme in Anand Gujarat?
The Gujarat Congress is demanding the resignation of Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani on the grounds of financial malpractices, claiming that she misused her Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) funds and coerced local authorities in Anand, Gujarat, to pick an NGO of her choice for developmental work there.
The alleged misappropriation of funds was carried out at Maghrol village in Anand, which was adopted by Irani under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) on 17 May, 2016. The NGO, Shri Sharda Majoor Kamdar Sahkari Mandli (SSMKSM), according to the Congress, was brought in at Irani’s insistence which was against the guidelines of MPLADS.
The BJP is yet to make an official statement on the same.
It Started With a Tweet
On 2 June, Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda, in a tweet, accused Smriti Irani of misappropriating funds received under the MPLAD scheme.
Chavda also tweeted a picture of the notice issued by the Collector of Anand to the NGO on 2 February this year.
The District Collector’s notice demanded that the NGO pay the treasury Rs 2.95 crore with 18 percent interest.
PIL Filed in July 2017
About 10 months earlier on 26 July, 2017, Chavda, who is an MLA from Anklav in Anand district, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Gujarat High Court.
“When I had filed the PIL, I was not the president of Gujarat Congress. However, back then we had information that instructions were issued from Irani’s office to the local authorities in Anand to allot work to Mandli,” the Congress MLA told The Quint.
The PIL alleged that Irani was involved in ‘corruption and misuse of funds in collusion with other state and non-state actors.’ The High Court had issued a notice to the state government in this regard, but no reply was filed by the government.
Although the court had ordered the state to file a reply within a week, their lawyers kept deferring the hearing for one reason or the other, and at times simply remained absent.Amit Chavda, president, Gujarat Congress
Chavda has based the allegations in the PIL on a CAG report released in 2017. His petition claimed that the implementing agency for Irani’s MPLAD – the Gujarat State Rural Development Corporation (GSRDCL) – continued to receive funds, even though it was shut down by the government in August 2015.
What Irani Is Accused of
An MP receives Rs 5 crore annually as part of the MPLAD fund, which is released directly to the district authority of the nodal district of the MP.
The PIL stated that the GSRDCL allotted work to Mandli ‘without following any proper procedure and in complete violation of the MPLADS guidelines.’
The MPLAD guidelines prohibit an MP from selecting the implementing agency, as the task is taken over by the district authority. The petition claimed that work was allotted to Mandili without inviting a tender.
Besides this, a contract of over Rs 50 lakh cannot be awarded to one group for completing the work. However, the funds allocated to Mandili exceeded the cap – these include Rs 55.47 lakh sanctioned and paid for beautification of a lake, Rs 12.67 lakh sanctioned and paid for work related to crematorium of Patel Samaj; Rs 54.8 lakh sanctioned and paid for a work related to crematorium of Kshatriya Samaj, and Rs 69.90 lakh sanctioned and paid for the construction of Panchayat Ghar.
The construction of the Panchayat Ghar, again, falls outside the gambit of the MPLADS guidelines, as the funds are only to be used for public amenities.
Calls From Irani’s Office
The PTI, on 27 July, 2017, reported the PIL filed against Irani, in which it said the District Planning Officer had even replied to the audit officer that work was awarded to Mandli as per instruction received from Irani's PA over phone. Speaking to The Quint, Amit Chavda claimed he had proof that Irani’s PA made calls and ensured that Mandli gets the contract.
We have it on record that Irani’s personal assistant has called and coerced the district authorities here. Without any government department’s involvement, the Mandili generated the estimate, segregated the work, and generated the measurement proof to draw payment from the district administration.Amit Chavda to The Quint
Collector’s Notice Bears No Fruit
Chavda explained how the Collector of Anand got involved in the matter. “After the PIL was filed, the Collector constituted an enquiry team consisting of Class-I officers. Finally, in February this year, Mandili was issued a notice to pay back Rs 4 crore (including 18 % interest).”
However, the money was never paid and no concrete action was taken against Mandli. “Now that money has not been returned, orders have been issued to file an FIR in this regard as well. There is a lot of pressure from the state government, because of which action at the ground level is slow,” he added.
The Quint contacted Smriti Irani and are awaiting her response. The Quint also tried to reach out to Mandili for a comment, but got no response. Meanwhile, state leaders of Gujarat BJP stayed away from speaking about the matter and referred it to the higher-ups in the state party ranks.
When The Quint called state BJP president Jitu Vaghani, he categorically said that he would call back as and when he gets free from a meeting. His phone was later switched off.
(With inputs from PTI)
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