CM Sarma Refutes PPE Scandal, Warns of ‘Consequences’

After the Assam government refuted allegations by a section of the media that Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s family was involved in ‘malpractices in the supply of PPE kits’, the CM said ‘it was not corruption, but humanity’.

“As India battled the Covid pandemic in 2020, then Assam health minister Himanta Sarma gave contracts to companies of his wife and son’s business partners to supply PPE kits above market rates,” AAP leader Manish Sisodia had alleged on Saturday citing media reports.

At a press conference, he claimed that while the Assam government procured PPE kits for Rs 600 a piece from other companies, Sarma gave urgent supply orders to the firms of his wife and son’s business partners for Rs 990 a piece “taking advantage of the COVID-19 emergency”.

The firm belonging to Sarma’s wife does not even deal in medical equipment, he alleged. “While the contract given to the firm of Sarma’s wife was cancelled as the company could not supply PPE kits, another supply order was given to the firm belonging to the business partners of his son at a rate of Rs 1,680 per kit,” Sisodia said citing the media report.

Responding to the allegations, CM Sarma said, “the company in question 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 not a single rupee must be paid by Govt. Assam NHM duly acknowledged the same. Manish bhai, this is not corruption, it’s humanity. My wife hasn’t committed a crime, she tried to help Assam at the time of its biggest crisis.”

“Throwing muck at others will not be accepted. You will face legal consequences,” he said.

Government spokesman Pijush Hazarika had said there was no scam in the supply of PPE kits and no member of the chief minister’s family were involved in the supply of any material related to the COVID pandemic.

The allegations are ”false, imaginary, malicious and can be attributed as the handiwork of a certain section with vested interests,” Hazarika, who is also the state’s minister for water resources and information and public relations told reporters here.

“Why are the two organisations (who made the claims) not going to the Court if they have evidence instead of making false and baseless allegations ?” he added. On June 1 two digital media organisations – New Delhi-based ‘The Wire’ and Guwahati-based ‘The Crosscurrent’ in a joint investigative report claimed that the Assam government had placed four COVID-19 related emergency medical supply orders most likely without following proper process.

“During the outbreak of the pandemic two years ago, none knew how to deal with the situation and experts said that PPE could provide full protection to deal with COVID infection. But there was no firm in Assam which manufactured the kits, while many other states had stopped transporting them as they themselves needed those,” Hazarika said.

“During an emergency situation, it is not possible to follow the general rules and regulations. The Cabinet had taken a decision that a committee will be formed and if its members gave the nod to buy the necessary kits and equipment to deal with the situation, then it can be bought,” Hazarika, who was then the minister of state for health, said.

Accordingly, orders for PPE kits were placed with 35 firms and finally only nine firms could supply them to the government. An order of only Rs 85 lakh was placed with the firm referred to by the portals, he said. Some PPE kits were arranged under corporate social responsibility (CSR) but not a single paise went from the government. ”So how can a scam or a scandal take place ?” Hazarika asked.

The chief minister’s wife Riniki Sarma Bhuyan, tweeted that in the first week of the pandemic not a single PPE kit was available in Assam. “Taking cognisance of the same, I reached out to a business acquaintance and delivered around 1500 PPE kits to the NHM (National Health Mission) with a lot of effort. Later on, I wrote to the NHM to treat the same as a part of my CSR,” she said.

Bhuyan claimed that she did not take a “single penny” for supplying the PPE kits and asserted that she had always been “transparent” about her “giving back to the society” irrespective of her husband’s political standing.

With inputs from agencies

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