Odisha removes IAS officer from Covid-19 panel amid opposition allegations of i...

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The Odisha government on Friday removed a senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer in charge of procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), masks and testing kits for fighting the coronavirus pandemic from the purchase committee amid allegations of irregularities.

The removal of Hemant Sharma, the principal secretary of the industries department, came as opposition Congress raised a stinker over the procurement strategy of the government asking how masks and testing kits were bought at different rates from different suppliers, raising questions about transparency.

Sharma was given the charge procurement for Covid-19 in April as chief minister Naveen Patnaik asked his officials to be “prepared for the worst”.

Sharma was among the key officials who led the emergency procurement team dealing with the purchase of PPEs, viral transport media, testing kits and other medical essentials required in the management of the disease.

However, as opposition parties alleged irregularities in the purchase of these equipment, the government issued a notification saying Sharma has been rescinded from the duty.

The government issued another notification later in the day relieving nine other IAS officers from Covid-19 duties, saying they have been spared to attend to their original administrative responsibilities.

Congress leader Sudarshan Das said the Odisha State Medical Corporation had given a purchase order for triple-layer face masks to a Faridabad-based company on April 15 at Rs 9.90 per piece.

However, the corporation placed another order on April 17 for the same quality of mask with a Tamil Nadu-based firm at Rs 16 per piece. While five lakh masks were ordered at Rs 9.90, around 30 lakh masks were ordered at Rs 16.

Similarly, one lakh PPE kits at Rs 900 per unit were ordered from a company on April 17 with the incentive of 50% of the value if the kits were delivered within seven days of placing the order.

Apart from this, the corporation had issued a purchase order for procuring 2 lakh testing kits from a Kolkata-based firm on April 21 at Rs 1,321 per kit. On May 7, an order was placed with Regional Medical Research Centre for procuring 45,000 kits at Rs 1125 per kit.

On May 11, another purchase order was issued for 4920 kits at Rs 980 per kit was placed with a Bhubaneswar-based company. Das also alleged that while the cost of real-time PCR machine is Rs 4 to 5 lakh in the market, the same machine was procured by the Odisha government at Rs 12. 94 lakh.

Neither Sharma nor officials of corporation replied to the allegations of the Congress leader.

Sharma had said during a Covid-19 press briefing in April that the chief minister had allowed his officers to travel with blank cheques.

“We all pray that the disease does not spread more in Odisha but in case it does, the CM has directed us to prepare for that scenario. The officers travelled with two cheques, one with the required amount written on it and another one a blank cheque, so that they can procure the gears for sure,” he had said.

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