NCP’s Abha Pande alleged corruption in procurement of Covid-9 materials by Health Deptt
Nagpur: Following NCP Corporator Abha Pande’s allegations of Covid scam in NMC, the Mayor Dayashankar Tiwari constituted a 3-member committee to probe the alleged irregularities in purchase of various materials for Covid-19 management by the civic body.
The Mayor issued the order, it’s basically an audit, at the end of lengthy discussion at NMC’s Special General Body Meeting held on Wednesday. As per the directions, besides Municipal Commissioner, two senior auditors from AG office would conduct audit of purchase, payments and administrative orders given the allegation of manipulation on part of civic administration. The special meeting was called to discuss administrative actions and financial misappropriation, wherein Abha Pande raised issues in the House about instances of violation of norms, discrepancy in purchase orders and dual payments and reluctance of administration to come clean on the matter.
The Mayor Tiwari, in his ruling said, if audit has to be done then all orders, deals, purchases and payments made under Covid-19 must be taken into account. He said the three-member committee will have the Municipal Commissioner plus two senior auditors from the office of Auditor General of Maharashtra. The committee is given one months time to investigate entire purchases made right from March 2020 till date given the suspicion in the minds of corporators that there is something fishy in various deals. Although the House seemed unanimous in demanding an inquiry, they pressed for a House Committee, Mayor ruled out the same saying, it would be unfair that those who have put the administration in dock should sit over it on inquiry. Hence for all fairness he lobbed the ball back in the Municipal Commissioner’s court and entrusted him with the task of audit.
In the special meeting, Pande alleged discrepancies in purchases of various items by civic administration. She pointed out that how come Additional Municipal Commissioner Ram Joshi signed on bills although the latter was not vested with powers. Further what was need for issuance of order by GAD, NMC, on June 30, 2020, entrusting COVID-19 related purchases to Joshi. Similarly, Pande pointed out the two payments made to a single entity on a single date and through two separate funds, that of State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) and under National Urban Health Mission (NUHM). In some cases, payments were authorised for the same purchases by then Medical Officer Yogendra Savai and also by other officers. Further, she referred to one instance wherein an air conditioner was purchased from a pharmaceutical firm and questioned its logic.
The senior Corporator also pointed out differential pricing of PPE kits, infrared thermometers, oximeters and similar such items. Though Haffikine is mentioned in order issued by administration, then why not NMC placed its orders through the Mumbai based organisation. Avinash Thakre, Ruling Party Leader, alleged that the civic administration failed to adhere to rules by not keeping the House in loop on various purchases made for COVID-19. Had the civic administration reposed faith in elected office bearers, perhaps the sorry situation of suspecting fishy in the deal would not have arisen. He however differed with the opinion of party colleague, Dharampal Meshram, who had stated that all the allegations did not point to any financial irregularities. Meshram had also contended that at most there could be administrative lapses but the situation of that time should be analysed before sitting on any judgement.
Several other corporators, including Jitendra Ghodeshwar, Nitin Sathawne, Manoj Sangole, Nanda Jichkar, Sandeep Jadhav, Sneha Nikose, Mahendra Dhanvijay, Asha Uikey also participated in the discussion and supported demand for probe into allegations of corruption and violation of norms on part of civic administration.
From administration side, Ram Joshi replied in detail to questions and contended that there is no flouting of norms and all purchases made by the civic body was cleared by district level Disaster Management Committee headed by District Collector. He denied the allegation of dual payment and there is not a single instance in any of the deal. As to discrepancies in prices, Joshi informed House that since COVID-19 was very new there were no suppliers of required material and hence from time to time the NMC negotiated the prices and brought it down. All the allegations by Pande it seems are her misgivings and tends from misunderstanding as preliminary investigations ruled out any manipulation or corruption in any deal. In fact, Joshi said NMC took several innovative measures that brought rich dividends in flattening the COVID19 curve in city.
Municipal Commr defends administration, opposes audit demand:
The Municipal Commissioner Radhakrishnan B got irritated at one point while responding to questions of integrity and alleged malpractices cited by City Fathers, saying they are mere misunderstandings and conjectures and pleaded with House to understand practical difficulties that administration faced while responding to crisis brought about by pandemic. The references regarding Haffkine Institute for purchases, at one point made him talk quite straight and explain that the agency does not have empanelled suppliers and the situation at that time called for quick deployment of material for use by field manpower. The rate contract finalised by Haffikine is not sacrosanct as when COVID-19 erupted not many manufacturers or suppliers were available in the market, so the civic body had little room for negotiating the rates. He made a passionate plea with House that any aspersion would impact further response as administration is preparing for the impending third wave. Since the State Government is already going to conduct an audit, NMC seeking its own audit serves no purpose at all.