Guwahati: Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) is a precious commodity these days because of a global shortage. So, when the Assam government landed 50,000 directly from China, everyone was pleasantly surprised. A feat not achieved even by the biggest states in India.
The person behind this masterstroke, Senior Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who appears to be working twenty-four-seven to contain the pandemic. Completion of this mission required him to improvise and work from the outside. A government order would have taken days to complete and none of the suppliers were willing to extend credit in uncertain times.
Sarma chooses his people well, keeping those who deliver close. He started reaching out – first on-call two of the most well-networked leaders, son of the soil Ranjit Borthakur, CEO of IPL team Rajasthan Royals and leading physician Dr Tarun Sahni, of Apollo Hospitals. They pitched in with their contacts across the globe and zeroed in on a supplier.
After the supplier was finalised they had to make the advance payment. Government does not pay in advance so that challenge was solved by 10 state PWD contractors who put 15 crore rupees together. “I had a discussion on the whole issue with these contractors when they were in state secretariat to donate in the Assam Arogya Nidhi,” Sarma said in an interview. Just on verbal assurance, they made the advance payment on behalf of the government.
“There were lots of doubts and insecurity involved in the entire process. There was no confirmed official guarantee at all that the deal will reach to a logical conclusion. Everything was based on gentlemen’s commitment only. Initially, nobody knows what will happen to the huge amount paid by them if there is any misappropriation of the amount takes place by the parties involved. But these contractors came forward due to their love to the state and the country and we managed to make the payment,” Himanta Biswa Sarma said in an interview to a local television channel
The process to bring these PPEs started in March, 2020 but hit a roadblock after flight operations to China were suspended. The operation was complete after Blue Dart started flying direct to China from April 15. On its first flight, it picked up 50,000 PPE kits from Guangzhou and flew five hours direct to Guwahati.
This is not all, India’s richest businessman Mukesh Ambani also pitched in with 10,000 high-quality PPE kits for the state.
Controversy relating to PPE kits
This deal may have been smooth but the kits are yet to be put to use. The 50,000 units received have kept in storage after some health workers alleged that the kits were faulty. The state government has sent the samples to government-approved laboratories to be tested.
Terming these allegations as baseless and assuring the health workers that they won’t be forced to use these kits, Assam health minister, Sarma, while addressing media persons said, “Now, we have a stock of 2 lakhs PPE kits. We will use 1.50 lakh PPE kits first, and we have asked the supplier in Guwahati to keep the 50 thousand Chinese PPE kits in his godown. We will send samples for quality testing, and then later, if required, will get them (if they pass the test).”