Bhubaneswar: Differences of opinion in the ruling BJD came to the fore on the Rs 700 crore dal scam today as several party MLAs held minister Pramila Mallik for the irregularities while two other ministers defended her.
Even as Orissa Chief minister Naveen Patnaik indicated strong action against those involved in the scam, at least two ministers today openly defended Mallik, the Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister.
WCD department was the nodal agency through which some 9.5 million beneficiaries were covered under mid-day-meal (MDM) and supplementary nutrition programme (SNP).
State vigilance had detected prima facie evidence of large scale corruption in purchase of dal for MDM and SNP. Several ruling party MLAs openly criticised the government and held Mallik responsible for the irregularities.
"I had many times informed the government that sub-standard dal was being served to children and women under MDM and SNP. But no action had been taken till vigilance detected the fraud," said BJD MLA Nrushingha Sahu.
Sipra Mallik, a woman BJD legislator, said, "The mistake might have been committed by officers. But, the minister cannot shift her responsibility."
Finance Minister Prafulla Ghadai, however, defended Mallik. "I don`t understand ow WCD minister is responsible for the scam while district collectors directly purchased dal from the market. She has no role in the alleged irregularities," Ghadai said.
Mallik, the only scheduled caste and woman Representative in Naveen`s cabinet, had been in charge of the WCD department ever since she joined in the ministry in 2004.
She got support from Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout also. "If there is any irregularity in MDM and nutrition scheme, collectors should be held responsible. The minister should not be blamed for the fault of officers," he said.
Earlier the chief minister had said some steps had been taken and further actions will be initiated after receipt of preliminary report from the vigilance department.
Patnaik`s hint at "further action" had apparently sparked apprehension that Mallik might be dropped.
Besides opposition Congress and BJP, the BJD`s electoral ally NCP had also demanded action against the minister.