Ambaji prasad row: New contract awarded without tender
The owner of the firm that sold 300 tins of substandard quality ghee to Mohini Caterers, arrested
Updated: Nov 21st, 2023
Updated on Nov 21, at 11.06
Another name has been added to the never-ending controversy regarding the prasad at the Ambaji temple. Shree Arasuri Ambaji Mata Devasthan Trust (SAAMDT) faced backlash for awarding a contract without tender to make prasad, which allegedly used milk powder instead of pure milk earlier.
The state government proposed the selection of Touchstone Foundation and Akshay Patra, linked to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), for making prasad on Aug 29 and received approval in a letter on Oct 3.
However, The Touchstone Foundation, which was given a contract to make mohanthal prasad in 2012–2017, was fined ₹60,000 for using milk powder instead of milk.
It has come to light that SAAMDT, which only consists of state-sponsored officials, played ‘favourite’ and awarded ₹40 cr worth of turnover for making prasad without issuing any tender.
Updated on Oct 18, 3.00 p.m.
The health department of AMC took five samples of ghee from Neelkanth Traders in Madhupura on Oct 6. However, the reports are still not released by the authorities, even after a week.
Updated on 7 Oct, 1.00 p.m.
Politicians at the helm of temple
As the row over adulteration in Ambaji prasad continues, questions have been raised about the authorities that oversee the administration of the temple. The state government holds the authority to make a range of decisions, including those pertaining to prasad.
Absence of people’s representatives
Currently, the chairman of Shri Arasuri Ambaji Mata Devasthan Trust (SAAMDT) is the district magistrate of Banaskantha, IAS Varunkumar Baranwal.
A total of seven trustees, including police officers, a district development officer, an executive engineer of PWD (public works department), a civil surgeon, the secretary of the Gujarat Pavitra Yatradham Vikas Board, and a town planning officer, are at the helm of affairs.
According to reports, there used to be representatives from the local public on the board of trustees before 2003. The suggestions of these representatives were considered before taking any decision regarding temple affairs.
Earlier, the board of trustees included 14 members, with seven from the state government and other seven members such as the Sarpanch of Ambaji gram panchayat, a local MLA, an MP of the district, the president of taluka panchayat, the president of district panchayat, and two or three people’s representatives.
However, this system hasn’t been followed since long, and no representative has been elected for the last eight years.
Moreover, permission from the charity commissioner is mandatory to conduct any changes in the temple trust, but the picture seemed sketchy on the board of trustees in Ambaji.
Selection of new contractor
The state government proposed the selection of Touchstone Foundation for this role on Aug 29 and received approval in a letter on Oct 3.
State government spokesperson Rushikesh Patel clarified that both Touchstone Foundation and Akshaya Patra are linked to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and the state government authorised Touchstone Foundation to handle the preparation of mohanthal prasad for the Ambaji temple.
New contract, a sham before?
The Touchstone Foundation, which was given a contract to make mohanthal prasad in 2012–2017, was allegedly using milk powder instead of pure milk, as per the sample investigation carried out by the then deputy mamlatdar M K Patel.
The foundation was also fined by the authorities at that time.
Kanti Kharadi, a Congress MLA of Danta, alleged that, “The contract has been given to ‘thieves’ once again. In the past too, this institution (referring to Touchstone Foundation) used to make prasad from milk powder. Despite being fined before, the very same firm has been given the contract once again.”
He was of the opinion that as the temple has enough staff, the Ambaji Trust should make the prasad.
In response to these allegations, Banaskantha collector said, “Touchstone Foundation is operating in many cities. A fine of ₹60,000 was imposed when the milk powder was used. Now, the system is more robust than before. We have measures to provide good quality prasad.” He added, “At present, the temple does not have enough staff.”
Owner of Neelkanth Traders arrested
|Owner of Neelkanth Traders arrested|
Jatin Shah, the owner of the Ahmedabad-based firm that sold 300 tins of substandard quality ghee to Mohini Caterers, was arrested by police inspector Dhaval Patel and his team on the night of Oct 5.
Out of the 300 sold boxes of ghee, 180 were sealed, but there is no disclosure on the whereabouts of the remaining 120 boxes by the authorities.