No horsing around: CM Thackeray cancels contract of Guj firm for international horse fair

It had come to light that the project worth Rs. 321 crore was hiding severe financial irregularities

Uddhav Thackray

After Uddhav Thackeray emerged as the dark horse in the Maharashtra elections, he has made sure to send most of BJP’s approved projects back to the stable.

In a first significant reversal, the newly formed Maha Vikas Aghadi state government has ordered the cancellation of a Rs. 321 crore contract awarded to a Gujarat based event management company Lallooji and Sons for organizing an international horse fair that came under the scanner for ‘serious financial irregularity’, The Indian Express reported.

The state-run Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) had entered into an arrangement with Ahmedabad’s Lallooji and Sons on December 26, 2017 to “conceptualise, design, execute, manage and operationalize” the SarangkhedaChetak festival in Nandurbar on a turnkey basis.

The company had previously partnered with the UP government and Gujarat government in conceptualizing and designing the venue of the KumbhMela and the RannUtsav.

However, on the day swearing-in of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government, the state tourism department, followed orders from Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta for an “immediate cancellation” of the contract.

“The agreement and the Expression of Interest that was floated was entered into without the government’s sanction. As it isn’t as per the Centre’s norms as well, it amounts to a serious financial irregularity,” said Under Secretary (Tourism) S Lambhate to The Indian Express.

Organised every December, the SarangkhedaChetak Festival is said to be one of the oldest horse fairs in India. In November 2017, JaikumarRawal, the then chief of the MTDC planned to promote the event on a larger scale. The corporation then floated a tender to select an event management agency in the same month and selected Lallooji and Sons from three bidders.

According to the contract between MTDC and Lallooji and Sons, Rs. 321 crore was to be spent on organizing and marketing the festival from 2017 – 18 to 2026 – 27. The MTDC further committed to spend Rs 75.45 crore (inclusive of taxes) as viability gap fund (VGF) to the contractor over these ten years.

However, in September, the office of the Principal Accountant General flagged an audit objection, alleging that “excess expenditure had been paid to the firm.” This year, in May, the planning department of the state sounded an alarm regarding the release of the VGF.

“There is no tourism policy to grant such VGF in Maharashtra,” the department stated. Further, it said that “executing an agreement and committing to the payment on the state’s behalf without taking prior approval from the state government or the cabinet was a serious financial irregularity”.

The request of the post-facto sanction of the VGF was questioned and the NCP and Congress had, in the monsoon session of the legislature raised allegations of wrongdoing against Rawal.

This comes after the new M’tra government has withheld payments of several projects that were green-lit by then CM Devendra Fadnavis. Republic World reported that the projects under review are – Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Corridor (Rs. 46,000 crores), South Mumbai – Western Suburb Connector (Rs. 12,000 crores), Bandra – Versova Sea Link (Rs. 7000 crores) and Thane Creek Bridge (Rs. 800 crores) among others.

The government has also ordered a review of the ambitious bullet train project for which the foundation had been laid by Japanese Prime Minister SHinzo Abe and PM NarendraModi. The project had faced stiff opposition from farmers and tribals whose land was supposed to go under for the same.

Uddhav Thackeray has also withdrawn cases against all protestors protesting the Rs. 3 trillion Nanar Oil Refinery and petrochemicals complex in Ratnagiri, reported the Free Press Journal. He is also reported to decide the fate of Rs 1 lakh croreJaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district. The Uddhav Thackeray-led MahaVikasAghadi government will also review off budget borrowings of Rs 2 lakh crore taken by its undertakings on infra and development projects.

Not only this, the leaders of the MahaVikasAghadi have also demanded the immediate release of the activists wrongly jailed in the BhimaKoregaon matter.

Looks like CM Thackeray is on a run to rein the free hand given by the Centre to the then Maharashtra state government that left hem horsing around with public money. Whether his decisions are for the genuine fostering public interest or is he just chomping at the bit to put down the BJP is yet to be seen.


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