By Sangram Panda, Bhubaneswar ,Odisha
On one hand the Odisha government says – there will be a big spike in the number of positive cases in the state in between the mid of June to end of July but on the other hand it is withdrawing nine senior IAS officers from COVID-19 duty.
The decision of the state government came in such a time when the opposition congress and BJP alleged corruption charges in the purchase of medical equipments, PEP kits , masks and management of isolation/quarantine centres to fight covid-19.
This heart – wrenching story of corruption charges in corona virus management has created anguish across the state. Unfortunately in such a pandemic time this thing is very very unexpected.
The state’s covid-19 spokesperson Subroto Bagchi said that some officers had to go back to their original posting. Secondly if the new warriors are not sent to the battlefield and old ones are given rest as the fight against covid-29 is a long process.
Bagchi said administrative reshuffle is essential. The government changes its strategies according to the need of the hour and reshuffle of officers is a part of it.
The allegation of corruption stem from a controversy over the government refusing to take delivery of PPE kits, masks , sanitizers and medical equipments forcing more than 20 trucks to remain stranded outside the Odisha state medical corporation warehouse.
The person responsible for the entire controversy is Hemant Sharma, Secretary Industry and MSME government of Odisha. He has been given additional charges of the purchase committee to supervise the COVID-19 related purchases of medical supplies and equipments in the state.
Controversy started when 33 trucks loads of PPE, sanitizers, mask and ventilators remained stranded for nearly a week for being refused by the Odisha State Medical Corporation citing delay in arrival. But after it was highlighted by a section of Media, the state government returned two truckloads each of sanitizer and mask and one truck load of ventilators while accepting the rest protective gears.
Massive controversy erupted when Hemant Sharma in an interview to a local news portal said the chief minister has given a free hand to officers for procurement of equipments. He further added that blank cheques were given to officers for procurement of essential medicines and medical equipments. State health minister Naba Das refuted the statements of Sharma that no officer has been given blank cheques. The minister further added that the statement of Sharma is of his own.
Congress COVID-19 control room in-charge Sudarsan Das alleges that , there is all round corruption in procurement of medical supplies and equipment s and also in Covid-19 spending. He said that the Health minister who said that all the purchases are transparent and are done as per the guidelines of the Central Government has fixed the mask price at Rs 10 and revised it to Rs 16 per piece a few days later. Odisha government purchased masks at Rs 16 from Tamilnadu based company where as the same masks are purchased by states like Gujrat and Telengana at Rs 1.34 and later at Rs 8.47 per price. He further accused the state government of giving rosy pictures on Panchayat wise spending on establishment of isolation centres in the state. But this is far from reality.
The state government has made a provision of Rs 5 lakh for establishing isolation centres in each gram Panchayat. When crosschecked with Sarapanchas’ it has come to light that, isolation centres are set up in schools/ colleges with only 10-20 beds. Most of the allotted funds are spend on whitewashing of rooms, toilet repairing, purchase of bed cover, pillow, buckets, mugs, gaddi, glass etc., the expenditure with in 2 lakhs. Rest of the allotment is mis-appropriated. The free cook food distribution in Panchayat level distressed person is in no way different. Many Sarapanchas are ignorant about it. Das demanded a independent enquiry into the whole episode.
BJP General secretary Prithiviraj Harichandan demanded that the Health Minister should clarify the issue instead of making baseless statements.
The people of Odisha trusts the intent and wisdom of Naveen Patnaik. They did not question any of his decision and sought to crush any and all voices that were raised in opposition. The corruption charges in this terrible health crisis period and the chief minister s silence and delay in taking action against the culprit has begun to weaken the trust for him not completely broken.
This attitude of some officers/PRI members to siphon the public money in this corona induced crises, and lack of accountability and delay in natural justice will be blatant betrayal of the faith of Odisha on Naveen Patnaik.