Can Ponty Chadha get a Rs 10,000 crore Anganwadi food supply contract?
Supreme Court has directed that only self-help groups, mahila mandals and village communities and industries be given such contracts
Virendra Nath Bhatt
Ponty Chadha, the liquor baron of Uttar Pradesh is all set to bag a lucrative contract of over Rs 10,000 crore for the supply of the nutritional food supplements for children enrolled at Anganwadi centers across the state. The contract is for the next three years and the supplements are to be distributed through the Anganwadi network under the Integrated child development scheme (ICDS) sponsored by the Union government.
However, awarding Chadha with the contract is in clear violation of the Supreme Court order of 2004 which directed that only self-help groups, mahila mandals and village communities and village based industries be given contracts for the supply of the food for the nutrition programme. Instead, the UP government is all set to hand over the contract to a private company, Great Value Food, run by liquor baron Gurdeep Singh Chadha alias Ponty Chadha.
It appears that Chadha, who was once said to be close to the previous Bahujan Samaj Party-led government, continues to enjoy same proximity to power in the present Samajwadi Party regime too. In 2009, during the BSP regime, Chadha had bagged the contract and then the rival firms had alleged that the terms and conditions in the tender documents were tailor-made to favour a particular company. In 2012, according to well placed sources, the contract is likely to be awarded to Ponty Chadha, after Diwali, as the process of opening the tenders and scrutiny of technical and financial bids has been completed. Chadha, also has business interests in real estate and sugar industry.
“Tenders were floated in September and bids were received from several companies. The company has been shortlisted, the technical bid for the contract has been finalised. The financial bids which were scheduled to open on 9 November, will now be opened after Diwali,” confirmed ICDS director Shambhu Nath.
The other firms who had also bid for the contract have approached the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court and challenged the terms and conditions in the tender document. “The conditions in the bid documents have been tailor-made to suit the interest of a particular cartel headed by a politically connected businessman. The UP government has inserted a condition that the firm applying for the supply of the nutrition food for the ICDS should have the manufacturing unit within UP’’, said lawyer Altaf Mohammed Mansoor, who is representing the firms. “Another condition says the firm should have a minimum annual turnover of Rs 25 crore, thus effectively throwing out the self help groups and mahila mandals, as directed by the Supreme Court in its 2004 judgment,’’ he added. The matter is listed for hearing in High Court on 19 November.
However, ICDS director Shambhu Nath has denied that the Supreme Court’s directions have been violated in the 2012 contract. “The bid document has been prepared in the light of the 2004 SC judgment and approval has been obtained from the Law department, fresh guidelines issued by the Center in 2012 have also been incorporated,” said Nath. He, however, admitted that the condition requiring a “Rs 25 crore turnover of the manufacturing firm” is neither in the SC judgment nor is it in the guidelines issued by the Center. “This condition has been added by the UP government and the department has to comply with that,” said Nath.
Samajwadi Party leader and Lucknow MLA, Sharda Pratap Shukla, has written to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, demanding an enquiry by either by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or by the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the UP police, into the nutrition procurement procedure. “I have written to the CM to prevent a scam in the supply of nutritional food for the children or else the government exchequer will suffer a loss of Rs 10,000 crore. This may be bigger than the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam."
Virendra Nath Bhatt is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.