The Karnataka government on Monday rejected outright, the Congress' charge of over Rs 2,000 crore misappropriation in COVID-19 equipment procurement, terming it as "malicious" and "far from the truth" and ruled out any enquiry into it.
Sharing details about expenditure incurred in procuring various equipment, Deputy Chief Minister CN Ashwath Narayan and Health Minister B Sriramulu, in a joint press conference, ruled out any inquiry and challenged the opposition to prove there was misappropriation.
"Total procurement by the Health department is about Rs 290 crore and by the Medical Education Department, about Rs 33 crore," Narayan said. He said the charge was levelled with an intention to cause fear among officials and see that work does not go on smoothly.
"There is not even a Rupee of misappropriation. We have been effectively working.. despite demand, procurement has been done at pre-COVID price... At a time when people are suffering,instead of responding to their difficulties, they (Congress) have behaved in an irresponsible way by levelling baseless charges," he said.
Leader of the opposition in the assembly Siddaramaiah had recently alleged that there were irregularities of Rs 2,200 crore in procurement of COVID-19 equipment, out of the total of about Rs 3,000 crore spent so far.
The former Chief Minister had also demanded an inquiry into it, and the Congress party had recently launched the Lekka Kodi (Give Details of Expenses) campaign, putting pressure on the government to make the expenses public. The Deputy Chief Minister said he was speaking with facts and figures, which would also be placed in the assembly and that the government was ready for any debate. He said the allegations don't have any ground as there is not even an iota of proof of wrongdoing or misappropriation.
Health Minister Sriramulu, challenging the opposition to prove the charges, said he would not stay in the post 'even for a minute' if these were found true. "What do they (Congress) think?... The Prime Minister is constantly monitoring us. We have doctors in the cabinet and there are good officials overseeing things," he said. He further alleged that Siddaramaiah was resorting to this as he desired to come to power and become Chief Minister once again.
"If you want to level an allegation, let it be something that is at least nearer to the truth," he said.
Clarifying on the procurement and expenditure so far, the Ministers and officials said initially almost all equipment was not available in the market because of non-manufacturing of COVID related equipment locally and due to the lockdown. So, the Karnataka State Drugs Logistics and Warehousing Society was directed to contact suppliers and obtain items available with them. Items or equipment available in the market was bought after price negotiations, they said, adding that over time, supply started increasing, helping in bringing down prices.
Noting that all procurement was done in a transparent manner, Additional Chief Secretary, (Health and Family Welfare Department) Jawaid Akhtar said two committees -- the need assessment committee and technical committee- oversee things. Reacting to the Ministers' challenge Siddaramaiah said he will soon speak to the media "with all the details."
Sharing details on purchase of ventilators and noting that there are also specifications involved, Sriramulu said total expenditure incurred was only Rs 10.61 crore. On procurement of PPE kits, he said about 9.65 lakh PPEs had been supplied so far at a total cost of Rs 79.35 crore, while Siddaramaiah has alleged Rs 150 crore was spent.
On N95 masks, he said 11.60 lakh masks were supplied so far, for which Rs 11.51 crore was spent, while for 30,000 units of surgical gloves, Rs 28.5 lakh was spent. "The allegations are far from the truth...there is a huge gap as between the land and sky, between reality and what has been alleged," he said.