Left, TMC seek CBI probe in PPE scam in Assam

Guwahati: Opposition Left parties – CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML) and RCPI and Trinamool Congress in Assam Wednesday demanded CBI probe into the alleged corruption in Assam government which gave contracts to Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma‘s wife and family business friend to supply PPE kits during the pandemic above market rates.

Issuing a joint statement, the four Left parties alleged that all norms were flouted by the National Health Mission (NHM), Assam, while awarding contracts for supply of medical equipment to fight COVID-19 two years ago.

“The series of investigative reports by two media outlets — ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Crosscurrent’ — have exposed that serious scams took place. So we demand a speedy investigation by CBI monitored by the High Court to reveal the facts,” it added.

The Trinamool Congress took out a march to the Raj Bhawan here but was stopped by police on the way. The party then submitted a memorandum to Assam Governor Jagadish Mukhi addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding a CBI investigation into the allegations.

“At a time when you are advocating a policy of zero tolerance towards corruption saying ‘na khaonga, na khane doonga’ (neither will I take, nor allow others to take bribes), BJP’s Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma has become embroiled in this controversy,” the memorandum said.

The responses by Sarma, his wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and the state NHM have only served to create confusion and apprehension in the minds of the opposition parties as well as the people of Assam, it alleged.

Assam Trimaool Congress president Ripun Bora charged Sarma of violating the conduct code for ministers by awarding contracts to his family and close friends if the allegations are proved to be true.

“It is indeed a terrible thing if such a scam actually took place at a time when the country was reeling under the conditions created by the Covid pandemic, when lakhs of people died and many more struggled to survive. It is an unpardonable offence and those guilty should be punished accordingly.

“Pradhan Mantri ji, we urge you to kindly look into all aspects of the issue and order a probe by CBI so that the matter can be cleared up for the benefit of all concerned,” Bora said in the memorandum.

Earlier, Congress, Raijor Dal, Assam Jatiya Parishad and Aam Aadmi Party had separately demanded a high-level probe by CBI, ED or any other central agencies into the alleged irregularities in the supply of PPE kits in 2020 when Sarma was the health minister in the previous BJP government in the state.

On June 1, two digital media organisations – New Delhi-based ‘The Wire’ and Guwahati-based ‘The Crosscurrent’ in a joint investigative report claimed that the Assam government had placed four COVID-19 related emergency medical supply orders.

Citing a series of Right to Information replies, 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 wrong doing in supplying the PPE kits to the NHM, claiming that she did not take a “single penny” for the kits.

The present Assam government and Sarma have separately denied all charges that the chief minister’s family was involved in the alleged malpractices and termed the allegations by the two digital media as “false, imaginary, malicious and of vested interests”.

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