Image Courtesy: OpIndia
Debabrata Saikia, the leader of the Opposition in Assam, has sought a probe alleging the Assam government of purchasing COVID-19 testing kits at higher rates than the cost prices in other states of the country.
In a letter written to Justice Chittaranjan Sharma, who is the Upa Lokayukta of Assam, dated July 21, Saikia alleged the state health department of irregularities and preferential treatment to certain suppliers for the purchase of items like PPE kits.
Saikia reportedly told the media on Sunday, “In June this year, I came to know through an email that the COVID-19 testing kits bought by the Uttar Pradesh government and the Assam government are of the same quality. However, the Assam government bought the testing kits at around Rs 600 more per kit than the rate paid by the Uttar Pradesh government. I’ve lodged the complaint and prayed for an inquiry into the matter to ascertain if the system of procurement of the kits is transparent. I’ve also sent the allegations levelled by the APW on the purchase of COVID-19 materials to the Upa Lokayukta.”
Earlier, in a letter to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, the Assam Public Works (APW, an NGO) had raised questions claiming 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.
As per reports, the allegations made by APW refer 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”.
Raising concerns about the utilisation of Rs 630 crore allotted by the Centre as COVID-19 related aid to the Assam government, it had pointed out alleged irregularities in the tender for supply of sodium hypochlorite and malathion. The chief of APW, Abhijeet Sharma had told mediapersons that a section of contractors in the state was using the pandemic to earn extra money.
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Meanwhile, state health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma reportedly told regional news channel that so far the Centre had released a total amount of Rs 155 crore, which was utilised for aiding those stranded outside the state. He had added, “I don’t know when those helping the government will get their payment. They are helping because of our goodwill.”
Responding to the allegations levelled by the Opposition, the health minister said, “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,” adding that the government tried to acquire products locally but they were not able to meet the demand.
He had also dismissed the criticisms saying that, “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.”
Notably, Saikia had earlier complained to the Assam Human Rights Commission regarding gross negligence in providing necessary healthcare and diet to the inmates of Guwahati Central Jail and other jails of Assam, along with general non-compliance with COVID-19 protocol. Following this, the AHRC had ordered the Chief Secretary of Assam and the IGP (Prisons) to submit a report in this connection to the Commission on or before August 5.
Over 32,000 people in Assam have been infected by the novel coronavirus and 79 have lost their lives till July 27 evening.
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Image Courtesy: OpIndia