Odisha(Lapses in procurement rob sheen off Odisha’s Covid management) stole the limelight from the rest of the nation when it became the first state to announce and enforce a lockdown to contain the spread of Coronavirus contagion.
The state added another feather to its gleaming cap when it set up two exclusive Covid hospitals in an astonishingly short span of a week.
Just when Odisha grabbed all accolades and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s exemplary vision to tackle Covid pandemic consumed reams in print, the surfacing of lapses in the procurement of face masks and personal procurement equipment (PPEs) has shuddered the state administration.
Heads have rolled. Hemant Sharma, principal secretary (industries & MSMEs) who was helming the purchase committee for procuring face masks, PPEs, sanitisers and pharmaceuticals has been divested of the assignment.
That apart, an official order has rescinded other officers- Vishal Dev, Sachin Jadhav, Krishan Kumar, Anu Garg, R Vineel Krishna and Rashmita Panda who were tasked with Covid management.
Questions are brewing galore on grim irregularities stalking the purchase of masks and PPEs. The whiff of scam wafted into the newsrooms when 33 trucks laden with PPEs, masks and other essentials were stranded for two weeks.
What’s striking is the huge differential between the prices of masks procured from two different companies.
On April 15, Odisha State Medical Corporation (OSMC) gave a purchase order for three-layered face masks to a Faridabad based company for Rs 9.90 per piece.
In a span of 48 hours, another purchase order was made in favour of Tamil Nadu based supplier for Rs 16 per mask.
Disturbingly, while OSMC ordered five lakh masks from the Faridabad based firm, a massive order for 30 lakh masks was in favour of the supplier from Tamil Nadu.
What made the state administration to show such munificence for the Tamil Nadu based supplier is a riddle that refuses to die down.
The Opposition has started baying for the government’s blood. Both the BJP and Congress have taken turns in besieging the government on what feel could be a sizeable scam.
BJP spokesperson Lekhashree Samantsinghar has fired a salvo on the ruling BJD for perpetrating a scam during an emergent health crisis.
Congress veteran Ramakrushna Khuntia has been vocal in demanding a judicial enquiry into the matter. He has even suggested handing over the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The unsavoury expose has put Naveen Patnaik and his team in a tight spot. A scam in this exigent moment could undo credits which his government has accumulated in COVID management.
As the state sees its Coronagraph peaking, it would need bulk supplies of face masks and PPEs to check the spread of the virulent pandemic.
The CM can’t afford to buy time in this crisis. Let him launch a probe to unmask the buried secrets. Time to act is now.