Mumbai: The Congress’s Mumbai unit on Wednesday alleged a massive “Tea Scam” in Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) where daily, an average of 18,500 cups of the hot beverage are served, costing nearly Rs.3.35 crore.
However, hours later, the CMO denied the allegations hurled by Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam.
Furnishing RTI documents, Nirupam said there has been a dramatic and steady increase in the amount of expenses incurred on tea consumption in the CMO in the past three years.
Citing RTI replies, he said the amount spent on tea has risen from Rs 57,99,156 in 2015-2016 to Rs 1,20,92,972 in 2016-2017 and then Rs 3,34,64,905 (almost Rs.3.35 crore) in 2017-18.
“This is a staggering increase of 577 per cent. It means that on an average, daily a whopping 18,591 cups of tea are served in CMO… How is it possible?” he asked.
In a defence, the CMO spokesperson informed that the said expenses did not pertain merely to serving tea, but also snacks, meals, refreshments served at cabinet meetings, flowers and garlands for felicitations, gifts, shawls, coconuts at various departmental meetings, functions and for delegations.
Besides, the expenses cited in the RTI reply included not only Mantralaya (the state government’s headquarters in Mumbai), but also CM’s official residence ‘Varsha’, the Sahyadri Government Guest House, the CM’s official residence Ramgiri in Nagpur and the Hyderabad House there.
Justifying the hike in expenditure, the CMO pointed out there has been “a stupendous increase in the number of visitors meeting (Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra) Fadnavis, Indian and foreign delegations, business groups and prominent personalities.”
Responding, Nirupam said that the RTI query pertained specifically to tea and snacks, so how come all these other expenses at multiple locations came to be included by the CMO now, and termed it as “unbelievable”.
Earlier, seeking to know “what kind of tea is Fadnavis drinking, since we have heard of only green tea, yellow tea and so on”, Nirupam sarcastically observed that “the CM and CMO seem to be indulging in some kind of highly expensive ‘golden’ tea’ to mount up such a huge bill”.
In contrast, he said it’s an irony that farmers are dying daily in Maharashtra, but the CMO seems to be incurring an unprecedented expense on “serving tea worth crores of rupees”.
Alleging corruption in the tea bills of the CMO, he said: “On one hand, the Prime Minister takes great pride in saying that he was a ‘Chaiwala’. On the other hand, Fadnavis has clearly taken this a bit too far with the massive and unnecessary expense incurred on serving tea in his office. Both the PM and the Maharashtra CM are taking the country for a ride in the name of chai.”
To a question whether its practical or feasible to serve tea to more than 18,000 people in the CMO every day, Nirupam quipped that “those Mantralaya rats must be drinking it all up…!”
He was referring to an alleged scam highlighted by Bharatiya Janata Party ex-minister Eknath Khadse, who claimed that around 319,400 rats were eliminated in just one week in Mantralaya.
Later, the state government said he was referring to 319,400 doses of rat poison which were deployed in Mantralaya to kill the rodents.
Nirupam said the huge expenses or the inflated bills for serving tea at the CMO is happening right under the CM’s nose and needs to be probed as it is done at the cost of honest tax payers’ money.