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Trinamul Congress seeks CBI probe in PPE row

TMC says Himanta Biswa Sarma has been accused of violating the code of conduct for ministers by favouring his family
Ripun Bora.
Ripun Bora.
File photo

Umanand Jaiswal   |   Guwahati   |   Published 10.06.22, 12:37 AM

The Assam unit of the Trinamul Congress on Wednesday moved Prime Minister Narendra Modi to order a detailed CBI probe into the alleged irregularities in the purchase of personal protective equipment kits and sanitisers during March-April 2020 when incumbent chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was the health minister. 

In a six-page memorandum to Modi submitted through Governor Jagdish Mukhi, state TMC unit president Ripun Bora said when nation dealt with the unprecedented emergency of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, it became an opportunity for the health department of the BJP-led

Assam government to hand over urgent medical supply orders to companies owned by the then health minister Sarma’s wife Riniki Sarma Bhuyan and Sarma’s “business friend” Ashok Dhanuka’s son Ghanshyam Dhanuka, for their “own benefit”.

The TMC unit had taken out a march to Raj Bhavan with banners and placards and sloganeering against the chief minister while demanding the CBI probe to “bring out the truth” in the alleged supply of items favouring companies “close” to the chief minister and buying PPE kits and sanitisers at inflated rates.

The party said Sarma has also been accused of violating the code of conduct for ministers by favouring his family.

 “It has been alleged that these firms close to the Assam CM were given orders for PPE kits at the rate of Rs 990 while others supplied the same item at Rs 600 apiece,” the memorandum said.

The TMC later tweeted: “We will not watch you fool the people of Assam silently, Mr Chief Minister!”

Referring to Modi’s advocacy of zero tolerance towards corruption and na khaonga, na khane doonga (neither will I take (bribe), nor allow others to take), the Trinamul pointed out that the responses by the chief minister, his wife and the state NHM have only “created confusion and apprehension” in the minds of the Opposition parties as well as the people of Assam regarding the moral high ground that the BJP never fails to take on matters related to corruption and misappropriation of public money and whether this is all just posturing without any real basis”.

The TMC, like other Opposition parties such as the Congress, the AAP, Raijor Dal and Assam Jatiya Parishad, has been pushing for a high-level probe based on the reports in The Wire, a Delhi-based news and opinion website, and The Cross Current, a Guwahati-based digital media platform, last week. These reports were based on RTI responses to queries related to purchases of PPE kits and sanitisers, among others.

The Assam unit of the Aam Aadmi Party had on Monday lodged a complaint with the police seeking a thorough probe into the alleged anomalies. The party had also mailed the copy of the complaint to Modi and the Enforcement Directorate for inquiry.   

“Pradhan Mantri ji, we urge you to kindly look into all aspects of the issue…and order a detailed probe by the CBI, so that the matter can be cleared up for the benefit of all concerned,” Bora urged in the memorandum.  

The chief minister has already dismissed the allegations. On Saturday, he said JCB wrote to Assam’s NHM stating that supply of around 1,500 PPE kits for Covid warriors must be treated as CSR contribution and hence the government must pay not a single rupee. 

“Assam NHM duly acknowledged the same. 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 and minister Pijush Hazarika has also dismissed the allegations against the chief minister's family over procurement of PPE kits, accusing the two news websites of  “spreading fake and baseless news".

The minister said on Saturday nobody in this world was aware about how to deal with the pandemic in the early days. 

“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 numbers of firms were given orders for providing PPE kits. Few managed to deliver the order and few could not,” he said, adding the orders of those who could not supply were cancelled.

Hazarika also said orders to supply hand sanitisers were given to nine firms as not more than two factories produced hand sanitizers in Assam at that point of time.

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