Siddaramaiah Alleges Graft in Purchase of Covid-19 Equipment, Says Karnataka CM Unable to Handle Crisis
The state Congress unit on Friday launched an attack on the Karnataka government, alleging misappropriation of funds in purchase of equipment for COVID-19 treatment and demanded an inquiry into it, a charge denied by the medical education minister.
Accusing the government of “irresponsibility” in handling the coronavirus crisis, Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah demanded transparency.
Further accusing the government of negligence, lack of commitment and responsibility in handling COVID-19 crisis, Siddaramaiah said Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa is not in a position to do anything. “I’m not sure whether the ministers listen to him,” he said.
Claiming that there was a squabble for supremacy among the ministers, including Health Minister B Sriramulu, Medical Education Minister Sudhakar and Revenue Minister R Ashoka, he said, “Barring one or two ministers there is no coordination in the government.”
“The government has purchased corona related equipment (medical), worth more than Rs 3,000 crore. Prima facie it looks the government has paid more price than the market price,” Siddaramaiah said, adding that everything from basic masks and gloves to ventilators, oxygen cylinders and covid test kits at a premium.
Speaking to reporters in Bengaluru, he said, according information available with him the government has paid two-three times more than market price during the purchase. He felt strongly that there was ‘misappropriation.’
“I demand the government come out with a white paper regarding the purchase and price paid. I also demand for an inquiry into the purchase. I don’t know who is involved, but there is a clear case of misappropriation and corruption. It appears prima facie,” he added.
Citing data furnished by the government to the Karnataka High Court, the Congress said the government claims to have spent Rs 120 crore to buy 1,000 ventilators, which should have just cost Rs 40 crore at market rate of Rs 4 lakh each.
Similarly, 5,000 oxygen cylinders were bought at Rs 80 crore, when it should not have cost more than Rs 43 crore, he said.
“The BS Yediyurappa government has also spent Rs 150 crore on buying almost 5 lakh PPE kits, when it should have just cost Rs 48 crore, while 10 lakh sets of masks and surgical gloves have been purchased at Rs 80 crore, when it should have just been bought at half the cost given the prevailing rates,” Siddaramaiah said.
“Overall, the government has spent Rs 3,392 crore of which nearly Rs 2,229 crore is unaccounted for,” said the Congress leader, who is also a former finance minister. The same equipment and accessories could have been bought at just Rs 1163.65 crore had the government had made the purchases at market rates, he added.
Reacting to the allegation, Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar said all purchases have been made in the most transparent way by senior officials under the supervision of the chief secretary.
“It is wrong on part of a former chief minister to allege corruption. I’m pained, it is unfortunate. If he had doubts he could have asked the chief secretary or us ministers, we would have clarified. This will not send the right message.
“There were equipment like PPE kits which were not available in the beginning. At that time, it was costing more than Rs 2,000 each. Now, it is available for Rs 800. There is no irregularity, we are open for any inquiry,” Sudhakar said.
Hitting out at the government over the incident in Ballari, where COVID-19 bodies were thrown into a single pit, Siddaramaiah said Health Minister Sriramulu should own up responsibility.
“Certain acts on part of the government are inhuman and disrespectful to humanity… this was done by the officials, where is the government?,” he asked highlighting the incident.
Sriramulu too hails from Ballari district and the incident shows the respect the state government has towards the dead, he said.
“Shouldn’t Sriramulu own up responsibility? Is suspending six people and saying such things will not happen in the future a solution? What were you doin all these days?” he asked.
Noting that there are reports and complaints regarding lack of beds, food and quality of treatment, Siddaramaiah sought to know how despite experts warning earlier itself the cases will increase.
“Is there a government in the state? In spite of me writing letters seeking information, officials are not sharing. It amounts to breach of privilege,” he said.
Claiming that Rs 290 crore has come to the chief minister’s fund, Siddaramiah said let Yediyurappa come out with a statement and let him tell how much money has come from the PM Cares fund to the state.
“The Government of India and the government of Karnataka should come out with a white paper regarding the availability of beds, ventilators, ambulances, patients admitted, patients in ICU,” he added.
Responding to Siddaramaiah’s charge that the government was not sharing information, Sudhakar said, “The administration was facing challenges every day, despite being in a troubled situation we are all working together to fight the virus, so there might have been some delay in sharing information.”
“Will we run away somewhere? We will share an account of every rupee spent… if someone has made money illegally in this Covid-19 situation they are unfit to be in a democracy,” he added.
(With inputs from PTI)