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Opinion

Odisha Lokayukta orders investigation of an alleged scam in the purchase of PPE kits

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The Odisha Lokayukta requested the state surveillance department to investigate the alleged irregularities in the purchase of personal protective equipment, masks and other equipment during the Covid pandemic earlier this year and submit the preliminary report within two months.

After the final hearing in the case brought by petitioners Sudarsan Das and Susanta Padhi ended on Monday, Lokayukta Ajit Singh ordered the investigation.

“The surveillance director should conduct a preliminary investigation to see if to combat Covid-19, Hemant Sharma and other public officials purchased essential pharmaceutical goods and critical equipment, including 3-layer masks, at higher rates because of their unfair profit. The Lokayukta said in his order.

The anti-corruption body also said that a competent officer who is not below the rank of Superintendent of Police / Additional Superintendent of Police who has impeccable integrity must complete the investigation within the next two months.

The order came after Industry Secretary Hemant Sharma and Odisha State Medical Corporation Managing Director Yamini Sarangi appeared before the Lokayukta, regarding alleged irregularities in the purchase of PPE kits and masks. .

Sharma, who currently works as the chief secretary of the department of industries, received the Covid-19 acquisition charge in April when Prime Minister Naveen Patnaik asked his officials to be “prepared for the worst.” The officer was one of the key people who led the “emergency procurement” team that dealt with the purchase of personal protective equipment, means of viral transport, test kits and other essential medical supplies necessary for the treatment of the disease. .

In their petition, the complainants had alleged that there was corruption in the procurement of masks, test kits, real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) machines, personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, positive pressure Bi-level Airway (BiPAP) machines, nebulizers, etc., during the Corona pandemic by Odisha State Medical Corporation Ltd and Hemanta Sharma, who was entrusted by the state government to oversee the procurement process.

On April 6 of this year, Sarangi, MD of OSMC, had issued a public notice requesting an open tender for the purchase of a triple layer face mask at Rs 10 / – per piece, but on April 17, the corporation bought 30 lakh of masks at M / s Vishnu Disposable Pvt Ltd, Tamilnadu at Rs 16 / – per piece bypassing the procurement modalities. The petitioners alleged that Hemant Sharma was the main architect of the purchase and his complicity is manifested when he publicly stated that blank checks have been issued for the purchase of essential pharmaceutical products and critical care equipment.

The complainants alleged that different states bought masks of the same quality at much lower prices.

The complainants also alleged that officials purchased even other essential pharmaceuticals and intensive care equipment at much higher rates by officials with an ulterior motive for illicit profit.

Both Sharma and Sarangi in their responses to Lokayukta denied the allegations of corruption and illicit profits. Sharma said the acquisition was completely transparent and without preferential treatment to any supplier.

Sarangi said that all the acquisitions were made primarily to protect people from the Covid-19 virus and save their precious lives and that too after the approval of the Emergency Procurement Committee and the Group of Empowered Ministers as well as the state Cabinet.

Pradipta Kumar Mohapatra, additional chief secretary of the department of health and family welfare, said the acquisition process took place before he joined.

“The complaints must be seen from the point of view that the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic has been unprecedented, causing unforeseen consequences and dangers. Other than the fact that it is a viral disease, the world knows little how to combat it. Given the emergence of a situation like this, in a welfare state, the government’s response to stop the threat of the pandemic must necessarily be an out-of-the-box response. However, in a parliamentary democracy, the people have the right to know whether the government’s response to the current pandemic has been honest and lives up to their desired expectations, ”said the Lokayukta.

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