Unholy mess: After Vyapam, Shivraj regime gets mired in Simhasth Kumbh 'scam'
While the BJP regime in Madhya Pradesh struggles to extricate itself from the Vyapam scam, another "scam" has landed at its door. The Congress has claimed that the Simhasth Kumbh Mela, which was held in Ujjain last May, was marred by widespread fraud and corruption.
The accusations are damaging for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who personally oversaw preparations for the event, which is held every 12 years, alternately in Haridwar, Nashik, Ujjain and Prayag.
Indeed, the opposition party has sought to implicate Chouhan directly by naming his secretary Vivek Agrawal, who is also the Urban Development Commissioner, as a key accused. It has also accused Parliamentary Affairs Minister Narottam Mishra's son-in-law, a bureaucrat who had been put in charge of organising the fair, of being involved in the "scam".
According to the Congress, the "evidence" of the "Simhasth scam" include:
Rs 40 lakh is shown as expenditure on shoes and slippers, and another Rs 50 lakh on "maintenance".
It supposedly cost Rs 350 crore to divert the Khan river to keep waste from going into Shipra, yet the waste continues to flow into Shipra.
Against the proposed 37,000 toilets, only 10,000 were installed. Of these, 4,427 are still missing.
Rs 37 crore was spent on electric poles and LED lights and another Rs 4 crore on tearing them down.
Water tanks were supposedly bought for Rs 50 crore. Where are these now? They claim sadhus took them.
Rs 200 crore was spent on marketing the fair, and another Rs 68 crore on the visit of BJP chief Amit Shah.
A contractor deposited Rs 30 lakh and disappeared with crores of rupees.
Water pitchers placed along Pankoshi Marg were purchased for Rs 2.5 lakh, which comes to Rs 250 per pitcher.
The Congress further alleged that the government was aware of all "small and big rackets going on" three months before the event, and that is why it had first sent Bhupender Singh, the minister in charge of the fair, to review the works and then a bureaucrat. It had even taken acted against two people for building "faulty toilets".
The BJP has denied the allegations as baseless and misleading, and even countered some of them specifically. According to Narottam Mishra, the entire inventory of pitchers at the fair was bought for Rs 4.76 lakh "but the Congress is saying the cost was Rs 4.76 crore". Similarly, 4.27 lakh slippers were purchased for Rs 40 each but they are saying the cost was Rs 4,000 each. As many as 53,192 toilets and 22,956 bathrooms were installed, the minister claimed, but the contractor was asked to return 5% of the money "after an independent agency verified that 195 toilets and 245 bathrooms were of poor quality".
Accusing the Congress of "playing dirty politics", the minister said that if the party has any proof of wrongdoing, it can complain to the Lokayukta or go to the court.
Mishra's bravado notwithstanding, the BJP seems to have been unnerved, particularly after the Congress put up cartoons "depicting Simhasth scam" across Bhopal. The cartoons were later torn down by the municipality and many Congressmen, including chief spokesman KK Misra, were arrested for putting up the "illegal posters".
The BJP has since held a presentation on the organisation of Simhasth Kumb Mela for all its ministers and asked them to go to their respective districts and "explain the truth to the people" and counter the Congress allegations.