Karnataka Govt In Dock Over Irregularities In COVID Procurement
By Our Special Correspondent
BENGALURU, JULY 20—The Karnataka State Government is in the dock over alleged corruption charges related to buying of medical equipment and ration at a much higher prices than available in the market for tackling COVID 19 crisis.
The allegations have been levelled by former Chief Minister Siddharamaiah, the current Leader of Opposition in the assembly.
The serious graft-related allegations of a scam to the tune of Rs 2000 crore have come at a time when the general population of the state is struggling to eke out a livelihood in the wake of Coronavirus crisis and spike in the number of cases recently.
The former Congress chief minister has sent written complaint to the Public Accounts Committee and State Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) demanding that the government come clean on the allegations made referring to the scam.
Siddharamaiah, in his complaint, has specified details about buying medical equipment like ventilators, N- 95 masks and sanitisers at exorbitant cost than the prevalent market rate, amounting to corruption to the tune of Rs 2000 crores. The mismanagement needs a probe as the equipment were bought to provide relief and succour to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families and migrant workers of the state but the expenses incurred have been undertaken in the garb of buying equipment for the poor and needy sections of the society, Siddharamaiah stated.
His complaint further added that the Karnataka Transparency in Procurement Act’s section 4 (a) and 4(g) grant exemption to the state to hide the largescale corruption in the healthcare department. The state government also faces some serious complaints of fraud and corruption in institutional quarantine centres started for scores of returnees from neighbouring states, foreign countries and contacts of COVID 19 patients.
There have been revelations related to same product or equipment being bought at different inflated prices by different departments of the government. Also, the government faces allegations related to companies not fit to manufacturing certain equipment being given orders to supply those products raising serious concerns over the procurement process.
The Karnataka State Drugs, Logistics and Warehousing Society (KDLWS), in its reply to the complaint of corruption lodged by Karnataka Rashtriya Samithi before the Public Accounts Committee, stated that the order has been cancelled but did not specify the exact reasons behind the decision. The KDLWS said that the two more firms had supplied sanitisers at a price of Rs. 250 per unit and termed the price rise due to shortage of raw material and increasing demand for the medical product in the state.
A case in point is the example of SM Pharmaceutical Company which was blacklisted for supplying substandard sanitisers being assigned the contract to supply sanitisers again and that too at that thrice the price in the market. The district labs located in Kalaburgi and Ramanagara had filed a report stating that the said company had supplied sub-standard and low-grade sanitisers but it was still rewarded with a contract of supplying 40,000 sanitisers in March.
In yet another glaring example of the anomalies pointed out in the procurement, the state government had given the contract of supplying 5 lakh N -85 masks to a company on March 21, a time when it did not have necessary and mandatory certification for manufacturing the mask from the NIOH approved N-95 masks. The company obtained the certification on June 7, two months after the orders were officially placed by the state health department. Similarly, a procurement order of 25,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits was given to a Bangalore-based company by the name Techtron at a high price of Rs 726 per kit. The company’s co-founder Rajeev Krishna replied that the company could provide the said masks as the government’s instructions were unclear.
The complaint has unearthed details that different department of the government had purchased equipment and products at high prices and at different rates. The KDLWS had bought masks non-invasive ventilators at Rs 1.18 lakh per unit, multi- parameter units at Rs 1.67 lakh per unit while the medical education department bought them at an inflated price of Rs. 4.3 lakh and Rs. 5.37 lakh per unit respectively. Similarly, N- 95 masks were bought at Rs. 147 per piece while the medical education department procured it at a high price of Rs. 295 per unit.
The complaint corroborates that the fraud is evident wherein the health department bought 500 ml sanitiser unit for Rs 250 while the social welfare department spent Rs 500 for the 500 ml sanitiser unit for its bulk purchase for 1867 hostels in the state. The social welfare department bought the sanitiser twice its market price during Mid-April at a time of peak demand.
Documents throw light that Vijaynagar Institute of Medical Sciences (VIMS), Ballari obtained 6300 PPE kits at a price of Rs 1,200 in July when the same kits were available at the rate of Rs 550-Rs 660 in the open market during the previous month. VIMS Director B Devanand said that procurement process was underway and three companies were invited for the bidding as around 60 persons were infected at the hospital and there was masks shortage at the hospital. “We had procured the masks on need basis at a time when prices surged between Rs 1800 to Rs 2000 per unit,” he said.
Siddharamaiah contended that when neighbouring states had procured ventilators at affordable prices of around Rs. 4 lakh, the department of KDLWS paid between Rs 5.6 lakh to Rs 18.2 lakh per ventilators, which was far higher than the market price. A senior IAS officer was transferred by the government for the inept handling on the pandemic situation with regards to migrant labour and rations buying issues.
The former CM had tweeted that BJP MLA Murugesh Nirani had also raised serious issues related to massive irregularities in COVID procurement done by the government. Nirani later rescinded his observations. Legislative Assembly speaker Vishveshwar Hegde Kageri has banned the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) from visiting COVID care facilities in state prompting a turf war between the speaker and the PAC chairman HK Patil who has declared that he would visit and inspect the facilities. State Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa has also ordered termination to the plan of starting 10,000 bed COVID care hospital, the largest one in the state at Bangalore International Exhibition Centre on ground that the rent per day for one unit of bed ranged from Rs 700 to Rs 800. Karnataka Rashtra Samithi President Deepak C N said that there was large scale corruption in COVID procurement where equipment and products were bought at inflated prices.
KDLWS Additional Director N Manjushree said, “The department has not submitted any report and there is no internal inquiry ordered in the procurement case. Most of the complaints were lodged by those bidders who failed to obtain procurement orders from the government. Recent notices and circulars issued by the state government have recommended strict action against wrong doing, irregularities and taking steps and preventing loss of public funds during COVID 19 crisis.