Guwahati: Seven opposition parties in Assam, including the Congress and the Left, on Wednesday jointly demanded a CBI probe into the alleged corruption in awarding contracts to firms owned by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma‘s wife and family business friend to supply PPE kits “above market rates” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The parties — the Congress, CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML) Liberation, Assam Jatiya Parishad, Raijor Dal and the Anchalik Gana Morcha — also demanded a high-level inquiry by a sitting high court judge into the “encounter killings and custodial deaths” in Assam since Sarma took charge as the CM last year.
These parties submitted a joint memorandum to Assam Governor Jagdish Mukhi, demanding a speedy inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation under the supervision of the Gauhati High Court in the PPE kit scam.
“The alleged corruption in giving contracts to a firm of current Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s wife and family business friend to supply PPE kits when Sarma was the health minister has been unearthed with the fact sheet,” they claimed in the memorandum.
“All norms were reportedly flouted by the health department while awarding contracts for the supply of medical equipment to fight COVID-19,” it stated.
Two digital media organisations in a joint investigative report had on June 1 claimed that the Assam government had placed four COVID-related emergency medical supply orders, most likely without following proper process.
Citing a series of replies to queries under the Right to Information, the media portals claimed that all the four orders, placed between March 18 and March 23 of 2020, were bagged by three firms owned by Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and the family’s business associate Ghanshyam Dhanuka.
Bhuyan Sarma uploaded a statement on her Twitter account, just hours after the report was published, refuting any wrongdoing in supplying the PPE kits to the National Health Mission, and claiming that she did not take a “single penny” for the medical equipment.
The present Assam government and Sarma have separately denied all charges of the Chief Minister’s family being involved in the alleged malpractices, and termed the allegations as “false, imaginary, malicious and of vested interests”.
The seven opposition parties also demanded a high-level commission of inquiry, headed by a sitting judge of the high court, to investigate the incidents of “extrajudicial killings”, termed as “encounter killings and custodial deaths” in Assam since Sarma assumed charge in May 2021.
“The extrajudicial killings in Assam be immediately stopped and Constitutional values and the rule of law be restored. The guidelines of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and National Human Rights Commission with regard to custodial deaths/encounter killings be strictly followed,” it added.
Actions should be taken against the police personnel who are responsible for “extrajudicial killings and encounter killings”, and they should be brought to book and charged with culpable homicide, the opposition parties demanded.
“Adequate compensations be given to the families of the victims of encounter killings and custodial deaths,” the memorandum said.
Altogether 48 people have been killed and at least 116 injured in police action while they were allegedly trying to escape from custody or attacking the personnel since the BJP government returned to power in May 2021.
The high number of shootouts whipped up a political furore with the opposition alleging that the Assam Police has turned “trigger happy” and is indulging in “open killings” under the Himanta Biswa Sarma-led regime.
On March 28, the Assam government informed the state assembly that death or injury to the suspected criminals is “not new” if they try to escape from custody or attack the personnel.
Defending police firing on criminals who purportedly tried to flee custody or attack the security personnel, the state government maintained that police will continue to act “tough” against the accused.
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