Opposition parties step up heat on Assam PPE deal
Opposition parties in Assam have stepped up the ante for a CBI probe into the alleged irregularities in the purchase of PPE kits and hand sanitisers by the BJP-led state government to check the spread of Covid-19 in 2020 when incumbent chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was the health minister.
Raijor Dal, a regional party formed just before the 2021 Assembly election, became the second Opposition party after Trinamul Congress to move Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a CBI probe into the alleged irregularities.
Raijor Dal submitted a four-page memorandum to Modi after a protest at the National Health Mission office here on Thursday afternoon, stating it was “unravelled with ample testimonial information” that the family of the chief minister and its close business accomplices were “involved in a big contract scam relating to the supply of Covid-19 preventive products....”
The Raijor Dal, like the other Opposition parties such as the Congress, the AAP, Trinamul Congress and Assam Jatiya Parishad, has been seeking a high level probe by a central agency based on reports published by news websites Wire and The Cross Current. The reports were based on answers received through RTI queries and information available with the state chapter of the National Health Mission (NHM).
The parties want the probe to unearth the truth following allegations that companies “close” to Sarma were given medical supply orders and supplied PPE kits and sanitisers at inflated rates. Sarma has also been accused of violating the code of conduct by favouring his family.
The Raijor Dal memorandum to Modi, signed by its president Akhil Gogoi and working presidents Bhasco De Saikia and Kabindra Chetia Phukan stated: “ Sir, the Assam government has not made any public disclosure of the government expenditures incurred during the Covid pandemic period till date despite incessant raising of questions in the Assembly. Therefore, under the circumstances, we anticipate with great conviction that our demands shall be considered in right earnest in due acknowledgement of the need to reassure public accountability of the government.”
Raijor Dal has also sought an inquiry by the Enforcement Directorate into the investments made by Calcutta-based companies in firms linked to Sarma’s family.
The names of JCB Industries, GRD Pharmaceuticals, Meditime Health Care and Agile Associates are among the companies alleged to have supplied PPE kits and hand sanitisers.
The Trinamul memorandum said there were allegations that “firms close to the Assam CM were given order for PPE kits at the rate of Rs 990 while others supplied the same item at Rs 600 apiece...” the memorandum said.
The Trinamul had also tweeted: “... We will not watch you fool the people of Assam silently, Mr Chief Minister!”
The Assam unit of the AAP, which had on Monday lodged a police complaint seeking registration of a criminal case in connection with the alleged irregularities, moved the governor on Thursday seeking the removal of the chief minister and the setting up of an inquiry committee.
AAP members were prevented from taking out a march from Ganeshguri. The party had on Monday mailed the copy of the police complaint to Modi and the ED.
AAP state coordinator Bhaben Choudhury told The Telegraph on Friday that they would soon meet the governor with their demand. “We are preparing a detailed petition to be submitted to the Raj Bhavan.”
Congress general secretary (administration) Apurba Bhattchajee said the party would discuss the alleged irregularities in its organisational meeting on Friday evening.
Sarma has dismissed the allegations. On Saturday, he said JCB wrote to Assam’s NHM stating that the supply of around 1,500 PPE kits for Covid-19 warriors must be treated as CSR (corporate social responsibility) contribution and hence not a single rupee must be paid by the government. “... My wife hasn’t committed a crime, she tried to help Assam at the time of its biggest crisis,” Sarma had tweeted.
Assam government spokesperson Pijush Hazarika, too, dismissed the allegations and accused the two news websites of “spreading fake and baseless news”.
Hazarika had on Saturday said: “A cabinet decision was taken to form an expert committee to approve procurement of necessary items related to Covid-19 based on nomination. And on that basis, 35 firms were given order for providing PPE kits. A few managed to deliver the order,” he said, adding the orders of those who could not supply were cancelled. Orders for the supply of hand sanitisers were given to nine firms.”