Nearly two years into the pandemic, with severe economic distress all around, this is one set of bills the Jharkhand Cabinet could have done without: over Rs 42 lakh from vendors for two unofficial cricket matches involving MLAs and mediapersons held in March, including one in which Chief Minister Hemant Soren was man of the match.
According to data obtained byfrom the Department of Tourism, Art, Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, these bills remain “under process”. A senior official told The Indian Express that the set of bills was not cleared twice earlier — once at the Departmental level and then at the Cabinet level.
Of the total amount, RTI data show that the cost of new kits alone added up to Rs 33 lakh — tracksuits, t-shirts, caps, kit bags, socks and shoes. Both the matches were tennis-ball cricket games, which usually don’t require protective gear, such as pads, gloves, guards and helmets.
According to the official, the sports goods procured were distributed to over 100 people, including State Assembly officials and workers, all the 82 MLAs, and mediapersons. Only 33 participants actually took to the field, the official said.
The official said the “work order” for the goods was not issued through tendering, which is why the proposal to pay was signed by Sports Minister Hafizul Hassan and sent to the Cabinet for approval. When contacted, Hassan, who is an MLA from Madhupur, said: “I don’t want to say anything on this matter.”
Sports Department Secretary Amitabh Kushal was not available for comment. Official sources said these matches are “played annually, and this is nothing new”.
Congress MLA Pradeep Yadav, who played one match, said: “We played to give a message to people to promote sports. It was also like a get-together. Whatever we got was of very high quality and I am still using the shoes…I don’t have any idea how much the bills came up to.” The Congress is part of the ruling alliance in Jharkhand with Soren’s JMM and RJD.
The first match was played on March 18 between the Chief Minister’s XI, including Soren, and the Speaker’s XI, led by Speaker Rabindranath Mahato. The Speaker’s XI scored 74 runs in 10 overs to beat the CM’s XI, which had earlier scored 73 in 12 overs. Soren, who made 11 runs, was declared man of the match.
RTI records show bills totalling Rs 30.85 lakh were raised for this match played at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) stadium, including Rs 23.99 lakh for tracksuits, t-shirts, caps, kit bags, socks and shoes; Rs 3.17 lakh for dinner packets and snacks; and Rs 1.29 lakh as supply fuel for the lights, apart from bills for other items.
The second match was played on March 22 at theathletics stadium where the CM’s XI made 191 for four in 15 overs and restricted the rival team, Media XI, to 153 for two in 15 overs.
RTI records show that bills totalling more than Rs 11.33 lakh were raised for this match, including Rs 9.37 lakh for tracksuits, t-shirts, caps, kit bags, socks and shoes, apart from bills for other items.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, Sports Department officials said Cabinet clearance was sought as per prescribed norms for amounts over Rs 1.5 lakh.
One of those who received a new cricket kit was Vinod Singh, the CPI (M-L) MLA from Bagodar.
“I had gone to watch the match for a few minutes and my helper received a bag with tracksuits, shoes and other items. I did not want to take it but since it had already been given, I did not return it. My helper took it with him. But the issue remains that the government should not spend such amounts on such matches for show. It should spend money at the panchayat level for strengthening the state’s sporting culture,” Singh said.