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Assam govt denies PPE 'scam' charge targeting CM; Sarma threatens to sue Sisodia (Ld)

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Guwahati/Kolkata, June 4 (Ajit Weekly News) The Assam government on Saturday strongly denied the allegations of irregularity in supply of PPE kits and sanitisers and that Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s family was involved in the reported malpractice.

Earlier on Saturday, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had levelled a fresh allegation of corruption against Sarma, accusing the latter of awarding PPE kit contracts to his kin during the Covid emergency.

Referring to a media report, Sisodia said 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 Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and son’s business partners for Rs 990 a piece, taking advantage of the emergency situation.

Sarma later hit back at Sisodia, threatening to file a criminal defamation suit against him.

“Stop sermonising and I will see you soon in Guwahati as you will face criminal defamation,” Sarma tweeted.

In another tweet, Sarma said: “At a time when the entire country was facing the worst pandemic in over 100 years, Assam hardly had any PPE kits. My wife took the courage of coming forward and donating around 1,500 free of cost to the govt to save lives. She didn’t take a single penny.”

The opposition Congress, Trinamool Congress, Raijor Dal and Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and other political parties have been demanding a Supreme Court monitored probe or by the central agencies into the matter.

Assam’s Information and Public Relations Minister Pijush Hazarika, who is also the state government’s spokesman, said there was no irregularity in the supply of PPE kits and no member of Sarma’s family was involved.

Claiming that the allegations are “bogus, malicious and imaginary”, Hazarika, who was the minister of state of Health and Family welfare in 2020, said that the false campaign is a handiwork of a certain section with vested interests.

“If they have evidence they can go to the appropriate court instead of making false and unsubstantiated allegations,” the Minister said.

The political controversy erupted after a New Delhi-based online media outlet along with a Guwahati-based media outlet claimed that the Assam government in 2020 placed four Covid-19 related emergency medical supply orders without following the proper procedures.

Hazarika said that considering the emergency situation, orders for supply of PPE kits were placed with 35 firms and for supply of sanitisers, orders were placed to nine firms.

A supply order of only Rs 85 lakh was given to the firm referred to by the media portals, the minister said.

Sarma, now the Chief Minister, was the Health and Family Welfare Minister in the previous Assam government headed by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who is now a Union minister.

The Chief Minister’s wife, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, said in a statement that a news website has come out with an unfounded accusation with regard to her supply of PPE kits to the National Health Mission.

“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 1,500 PPE kits to the NHM with a lot of effort.

“Later, I wrote to the NHM to treat the same as a part of my CSR. A due acknowledgment is enclosed. I did not take a single penny out of this supply. I have always been transparent about my belief in giving back to the society, irrespective of my husband’s political standing. My organisation has also supported the NHM in the fight against Covid by donating to the Aarogya Nidhi,” she said.

In Kolkata, Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha member Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, quoting media reports, said that PPE kits were purchased at the rate of Rs 2,200 per piece.

“However, the actual price of the same at that time in the open market was Rs 600-700. The time referred to here is March-April of 2020 when these PPE kits were procured.

“A total of 10,000 PPE kits were procured from Agile Associates at the rate of Rs 2,200 per piece. Two companies named Agile Associates and Meditime Healthcare were involved, and it included the participation of the wife and son of then Health Minister of Assam,” Ray said.

Meditime Healthcare bagged orders worth Rs 4.20 crore for the supply of PPE kits, he said.

On the other hand, Agile Associates received orders worth Rs 2,20,50,000 for the same. These facts surfaced in the RTI replies and documents submitted on the purchases by the concerned departments which were published in the media, said Ray, who’s also a senior lawyer.

Congress leaders in Guwahati announced that they would continue their agitation till a probe is ordered to unearth the “irregularities”.

–Ajit Weekly News

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