Pankaja Munde had close ties to road scam-tainted company

In October 2015, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Poonam Mahajan set in motion a series of events that may now cause trouble for fellow party leader, political heir and Maharashtra Cabinet minister Pankaja Munde. A company with which Ms. Munde and her husband Dr. Charudatta Palwe had a ‘close partnership’ has been revealed to have received an unusually high number of work orders during the time of that partnership, an investigation by The Hindu reveals.

Ms. Mahajan’s complaint resulted in a probe by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), and then an examination ordered by the municipal commissioner. The probe later expanded to include 34 roads projects, involving works worth Rs 352 crore. On April 27, 2015, a first information report (FIR) was registered, and ten people, including employees of six contractors — including RPS Infra Projects, a Mumbai construction firm — were arrested on June 16. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has made an assurance of a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the road scam.

Pankaja Munde had close ties to road scam-tainted company

An investigation by The Hindu revealed further irregularities and conflict of interest.

RPS, documents show, received seven times more work orders while it was in ‘partnership’ with Ms. Munde and Dr. Palwe. One of RPS’s two directors, Ketan Rajmal Shah, was a designated partner in Supra Media Services LLP and SOS Supra Publicity LLP since 2012, two of the media firms floated by the Ms. Munde and Dr. Palwe from their office in Pune. Mr. Shah entered into a limited liability partnership with Supra Media Services LLP after the RPS board passed a resolution on June 15, 2012, to do business with the Palwes.

Documents accessed by The Hindu show that Ms. Munde terminated her four-year partnership in a Pune-based limited liability partnership firm, Supra Media Services LLP, immediately after the BMC registered the FIR against the six contractors. And on May 30, 2016, Ms. Munde wrote to partners of Supra Publicity Private Limited: “I hereby tender my resignation from the office of the nominee of Supra Publicity Pvt Ltd, designated partner of the LLP.”

On June 17, a day after the police arrested 10 people in the scam, Dr. Palwe, too, resigned from the LLP. Soon after, Ms. Munde cut off all ties with Supra Publicity Private Limited, the parent company of the LLP.

The couple were replaced by new designated partner (nominated) Paresh Bandiwadekar brought in on May 30 and Prashant Bhende (designated partner), a close aide, joining on June 17.

While Ms. Munde’s accounts do not show any cash transactions with the RPS, or its directors Ketan Rajmal Shah and Nitin Rajmal Shah, she maintained a stake in Supra Media Services LLP and Supra Publicity until the day the road scam broke.

While not conducting any apparent business, the two firms seemed to have greatly benefited from the association, records from Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), BMC and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) show.

RPS had won orders worth Rs. 199 crore in the first six years after its incorporation in 2006. But when Ms. Munde was on the board of Supra Media Services LLP with Ketan Shah between 2012 and 2015, RPS received a sudden influx of work orders worth Rs. 1398.8 crore from the BMC.

Supra Media’s arms (see box) all working out of the same office (Room 302, City Bay Tower, Dhole Patil Road) showed a revenue of Rs 1.03 crore in 2014; this figure jumped to Rs 5.16 crore in 2015. Data from PMC shows that the company owed its meteoric rise to the acquisition of hoardings at prime locations: Dhole Patil, Nagar Road, and Yerwada. Supra Publicity has six prime locations and has six more at Kalyani Nagar on a public-private partnership basis, and Mirage owns two. “Another six locations are in litigation,” a senior PMC officer said.

In response to a questionnaire mailed to Ms. Munde and Dr. Palwe, their representative, Mr. Bandiwadekar, replying on their behalf, said that Supra Media Services LLP was a defunct company, earning no profit or doing any business. “RPS was issued a work order for advertising in 2011 by BMC, since the partners of Supra Media Services LLP were in business of advertising for last 10 years, RPS approached the said LLP to grant advertising rights. However, due to unforeseen reasons and policy changes in BMC, no work was ever carried out. In view of this non-performance of the LLP since last four years, Dr. Charudatta Palwe and Mrs Pankaja Palwe resigned from the LLP. Neither of them nor me are concerned or connected with or remotely associated with RPS in any manner.”

However, MCA records show that the company is still active, with the obligatory contribution by the three partners (including Ketan Shah) of Rs. 1 lakh still in the account.

In addition, the pre-election affidavit filed by Ms. Munde in 2014 declared her holding shares worth Rs. 66.76 lakh in all registered arms of Supra, and she also declared having given a personal loan/advance of Rs. 2.24 crore to them.

These revelations on Ms. Munde’s association with a tainted contractor could put the party in an embarrassing spot.

“This is clear indication that BJP and Sena leaders are involved in the road scam. This is not only conflict of interest but the matter should now be handed over to the anti corruption bureau with the name of the minister cropping up,” said NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 4:03:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/Pankaja-Munde-had-close-ties-to-road-scam-tainted-company/article14549084.ece

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