Allegations of unfair disbursal of funds to MLAs, leading to fall of MVA govt, surface against Ajit Pawar

Disgruntled Shiv Sena MLAs allege Ajit Pawar played a role in fall of MVA govt by being biased in favour of NCP MLAs. Pawar has said he went by rules and precedents, demands and requirements

Allegations of unfair disbursal of funds to MLAs, leading to fall of MVA govt, surface against Ajit Pawar

Rahi Bhide

Was Ajit Pawar, finance minister in the MVA Government, responsible for triggering the rebellion by Shiv Sena MLAs? Despite Pawar’s spirited rebuttal in the House, in Shiv Sena circles he is being singled out as the villain single-handedly responsible for bringing down the MVA Government. A section of Congress MLAs too subscribe to the perception, they claimed.

The allegations against Pawar surfaced immediately after MLAs belonging to the Shinde faction regrouped in Guwahati (Assam). He was accused of disbursing as much as Rs 500-600 crore to the constituencies of NCP MLAs while being miserly with Shiv Sena and Congress MLAs whose constituencies were allocated merely Rs 50-60 crore each.

Aware of the allegations, Ajit Pawar put up a spirited defence in the Assembly while refuting them. He went by rules and precedents, demands and requirements, he asserted. “Unless legislators put up concrete proposals before the presentation of the budget, how could I have made allocations,” he wondered aloud.

Funds, he said, were not given to political parties in the coalition government but to the departments. “I never distributed funds according to party affiliation. In fact I enhanced MLA funds from Rs one crore to Rs five crore and also increased their development fund. I allocated Rs 12,000 crore to the Chief Minister’s departments. Eknath Shinde had privately asked me to give him more funds and I gave what he had asked for,” said Pawar in his hard-hitting speech.

But Pawar’s defence did little to convince the Shiv Sena MLAs. One of them, Neelam Gorhe, recalled that party MLAs had put up proposals to the finance department but they were ignored. Another MLA pointed out that the NCP did control all the plum departments of Home, Finance, Rural Development and Finance. Shiv Sena’s portfolios of Higher and Technical Education, Industry and Urban Development were poor cousins, he fretted.

A veteran bureaucrat and a former finance secretary, asked to comment on the controversy, said that he would not dismiss the allegation outright because he too had seen it happen in his time.

He explained that every year in March, when the finance department would compile consolidated figures of the money utilised and the funds that remained unspent, the finance minister at his discretion would allocate funds to favourite projects, constituencies etc.

“The budget is already prepared and it need not even go up to the cabinet. There is no compulsion for the finance minister to consult anyone and these surplus unspent funds are allocated entirely at his discretion. No one is the wiser,” he revealed.

While this discretionary allocation—described often as the March Loot—happens in most governments, the bureaucrat suspected it happened more in coalitions. Favouritism, he quipped, is indulged in by most finance ministers, he felt. In Congress-NCP Governments in the state, it would be the NCP which would be the culprit while in BJP-Shiv Sena Governments, it would be the BJP, he added.

Sore Shiv Sena MLAs hint of a diabolical plot to weaken both the Sena and the Congress in the state. With BJP unlikely to garner either the liberal votes for Congress or the marathi votes of the Sena, NCP stood to gain the most by politically weakening the two parties, they claimed.

Shiv Sena MLA from Osmanabad district Tanaji Sawant alleged that funds ranging from Rs 200 crore to 250 crore were disbursed even in constituencies where there was not even a single MLA of the NCP (thus unwittingly endorsing Pawar’s claim that he was not in fact partial).

Shiv Sena MLA Suhas Kande, one of the rebel MLAs from Nandgaon in Nashik district, had however approached the court directly against Nashik guardian minister Chhagan Bhujbal for his allegedly unequal distribution of funds to various constituencies in the district under him. “While all Guardian Ministers might have been allotted equal funds, they in turn discriminated in disbursing the funds within the district,” he alleged.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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