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Rabri in blanket row

Patna, Feb. 24: The Rabri Devi government’s decision to distribute woollen blankets worth Rs 30 crore to the poor this summer in a hurry, about a month after she had declared the cold wave of December-January a “natural calamity”, has sparked a political row.

After declaring the cold wave — which took a toll of 700 across the state — a natural calamity, the Bihar government had declared in the second week of January that it would distribute 20 lakh blankets. This, it said, would cost the state exchequer Rs 30 crore. The tenders for the distribution of the blankets have been appearing in local dailies since last week.

However, leader of Opposition in the Assembly Sushil Kumar Modi alleged that the tender process was fraught with irregularities ranging from price quotations to the selection of agencies for distribution. One agent in Munger has been asked to deposit Rs 1 lakh for distributing 30,000 blankets, while another was asked to deposit Rs 25,000 for supplying 66,000 blankets, he pointed out.

Besides, the Patna district administration has awarded the contract for distributing more than one lakh blankets to Export Corporation Limited, a sick state undertaking. In a notification, the administration has directed the contractor to distribute 25,000 blankets by February 24, another 35,000 by March 3 and 53,216 blankets by March 10.

A senior officer of the relief and rehabilitation department admitted that the state government seemed to react first and act later. Now, the district magistrates have been asked to expedite the process and are in a hurry to complete the task before the end of this financial year, he said.

“This is another scam in the making. If the poor don’t need the blankets now, why is the state government in a tearing hurry to distribute them'” asked Modi.

He alleged that the Rashtriya Janata Dal government was in a hurry to hand over the blankets as it wanted to woo the poor on the eve of a party rally slated for March-end. “I demand that the purchase of blankets is done by a central committee in strict conformity with the rules. If it takes time, the distribution can be done before the onset of the next winter,” Modi said.

Modi alleged that the RJD had committed a similar scam in 1995 by offering the poor a “dhoti-sari scheme”. Norms were not followed for the purchase of the clothes, resulting in a CBI probe, he said. The CBI had found irregularities in the purchases and clothes worth Rs 79 lakh are now lying in godowns, pointed out Modi.

Members of the Cabinet, however, countered the allegations. “The BJP is anti-poor and looks for opportunities to stall welfare schemes whenever they are initiated by a popular state government in Bihar,” said state minister for parliamentary affairs Ramchandra Purve. He said the poor would still need blankets and they would preserve them for the next season. “What is wrong if these are distributed now'” he asked.

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