Plea to probe Assam Covid-19 purchases
Leader of the Opposition in Assam, Debabrata Saikia, has moved the Upa Lokayukta seeking a probe into the alleged irregularities and preferential treatment given to certain suppliers by the state health department for the purchase of items like PPE kits to check the spread of Covid-19.
Saikia, who is also the leader of the Congress Legislature Party in the Assembly, on Friday released a letter he wrote to Justice Chittaranjan Sharma, Upa Lokayukta, Assam, on July 21, on the alleged irregularities in the purchase of various items, including personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, by the health and family welfare department.
Saikia moved the Upa Lokayukta on the basis of allegations raised in a recent letter to chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal by Aabhijeet Sharma and Dhrubajyoti Talukdar, president and general secretary of Assam Public Works (APW), an NGO involved with issues like the update of the National Register of Citizens.
The APW officials have alleged that a group of businessmen were allegedly colluding with senior officials of the health department to “monopolise” the supply of various items required to check the spread of the virus.
Saikia said the APW has made allegations specific to contracts for supply of PPE kits and triple-layered N95 masks worth around Rs 71 crore, “details of which have not been posted online on the department’s website or the government of Assam’s e-tendering portal in violation of official guidelines”.
The APW has also alleged irregularities in the tender for supply of sodium hypochlorite and malathion “expressing doubt” about the utilisation of Rs 630 crore allotted by the Centre as Covid-related aid to the Assam government. APW chief Sharma had told mediapersons that Covid-19 pandemic had turned into a festival to earn money for a section of contractors.
Saikia has quoted the allegations raised by RTI activist Adish in a letter to Sonowal on how the health department had procured “overpriced” Covid-19 testing kits under the National Health Mission, which paid Rs 1,145 per kit to a supplier. The activist had alleged that the same supplier had provided PPE kits to the Uttar Pradesh government at Rs 490 per kit. Saikia in his letter said these were serious allegations and deserved to be probed, especially because the issue involves “profiteering at a time of general human misery”.
Health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told a TV channel that the Centre had released Rs 155 crore so far, all of which was spent on helping the stranded people.
“I don’t know when those helping the government will get their payment. They are helping because of our goodwill,” Sarma said.
The minister also said the health department had tried to acquire items from local entrepreneurs but they were not able to meet the demand. “We did not go for tendering because we were trying to save lives. We were faced with an unprecedented situation. The process of placing tenders would have been time-consuming. Now my focus is on fighting Covid-19. Once that is over, I will respond appropriately to all the charges,” Sarma said, taking a dig at the Opposition.
“The fight is between men and Covid-19. Those not helping us fight the coronavirus are part of the death syndicate. There is no Covid syndicate. These are unnecessary criticisms to demoralise the frontline corona warriors,” Sarma said.
He also claimed the ruling BJP will win 100 out of the 126 seats in the 2021 Assembly polls because the people have seen “what we are doing for them”.
The coronavirus has infected over 29,000 people in Assam and claimed 70 lives till Friday evening.