By: L S Herdenia
With hardly one year left for Vidhan Sabha elections, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is facing the charge of scam perhaps as serious as VYAPAM. The scam has been brought into open by the Madhya Pradesh Accountant General. The accountant general detected alleged large-scale fraud in the midday meal and free-food scheme for children, including irregularities in the women and child development (WCD) department – headed by chief minister since the resignation of Scindia-loyal Imarthi Devi after her defeat in the 2020 by-polls.
Vehicles listed as trucks turned out to be scooters, motorcycles and autos and the number of beneficiaries were hugely inflated, says the confidential report. The AG has asked the chief secretary to hold investigation through an ‘independent agency’ and fix responsibility of officials at various levels. “Audit findings clearly indicate large-scale fraud/misappropriations in the identification of beneficiaries, production, transportation, distribution and quality control of Take-Home Ration (THR),” it says, suggesting a revamp of the entire process and evolving an IT system for better monitoring.
Close to midnight on Sunday the state government issued response, blaming clerical errors in part and saying that corrective measures have already been taken on the CM’s instructions. Under THR, nutritious food is distributed to children aged 6-36 months and pregnant/lactating women to fill the nutrition gap. The directorate informed auditors that the government had spent just over Rs. 2393 crore to procure 4.05 MT THR to deliver to 1.34 crore beneficiaries of all categories from 2018-2021.
In 2018-19, the school education department has estimated the number of out of school adolescent girls (OOSAGs) at 9,000 but the WCD department, without conducting any baseline survey, estimated their number at 36.08 lakh, says the report. The audit found clear indication of “data manipulation” during 2018-21, leading “fake distribution” of THR worth Rs. 110.83 crore”. Auditors also suspect fake supply of 821.8 MT THR worth Rs. 4.95 crore.
When auditors cross checked the registration numbers of trucks recorded and vehicles supplying “THR worth Rs. 2.4 crore, they turned out to be motorcycles, auto rickshaws, cars, tractors and tankers. Similarly, around 646 MT of THR, worth over Rs. 3 crore, was supplied in vehicles that “don’t even exist” said sources.
Defective tendering and financial flaws were detected in the audit, including non recovery of Rs. 141 crore paid in advance to MP State Rural Livelihood Mission (MPSRLM) o set up seven plants.
Official records suggest that THR was provided to 49.58 lakh registered beneficiaries, including 24.69 lakh children, 14.25 lakh pregnant and lactating mothers and 64,0000 OOSAGs. Auditors examined THR given to 11.98 lakh (24%) of beneficiaries in eight districts and came upon these shocking findings. The report recommended audit of the scheme in all other districts.
The moment the details of the scam became known state PCC chief Kamal Nath asked Chief Minister to take moral responsibility and fourth with resign. The state Congress alleges that it is a ‘scam’ of at least Rs. 2,000 crore.
“The scam has occurred in the chief minister’s department. When the irregularities have been revealed, he should have resigned on moral grounds” Nath told reporters says the state Congress office in Bhopal.
The veteran Congress leader said, “The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government’s nutritious meal scam had been exposed through the CAG report. Today, every section of society in this state is distraught. Whether it is a matter of fertilisers or seed, wherever you look, there is the corrupt system of the Shivraj government. CM Chouhan had tweeted, “This is not the final report of CAG. This is a preliminary report, on which the department is yet to present its side”.
The Madhya Pradesh government has said that corrective steps have been taken and blamed clerical errors for the audit findings that motorcycles and autos were passed off as delivery trucks.
Nath pressed on with the attack. “It seems the next 12 months of Shivraj government will be full of scam revelations. Next year will be year of scams. For the last 18 years, they have made a system of scams. That will be unearthed daily” he said.
“Farmers are not getting urea and seeds, nor are cooperative societies getting fertilisers” Nath alleged, “Congress is preparing its charge sheet and its manifesto for next year’s assembly elections. We will ensure that people’s attention is drawn to this scam. Since the government is with BJP, they should have initiated action by now.”
Nath said that the Congress will raise the issue in the assembly session that commences Monday. ‘We will demand the government’s explanation on the scam” he said. “The CM should have given his explanation on the allegations the day after the scam came to light’ An FIR should have been registered but that was not done” he said.
The women and child development department has sought 15 days time to reply to the “observations” made by the MP auditor general. The WCD called the audit a ‘draft report’ and said a fortnight’s time has been sought to send a reply on the audit objections.
Officials of all eight districts that were audited – Satna, Rewa, Dhar, Jhabua, Chjhindwara, Bhopal and Shivpuri – have been summoned to the WCD directorate with all their documents for verification. A video conference was also held at the state secretarial on the issue. (IPA Service)