State ministers for public health and tribal welfare on Tuesday announced internal inquiries into multi-crore purchase orders for medicines and other items for tribal students, following the Opposition’s allegations of corruption and irregularities in the procurement.
Facing flak, Public Health Minister Deepak Sawant also decided to suspend Satish Pawar, director of health services, saying the responsibility of procuring medicines is the directorate’s and the files don’t come to the minister. Pawar was unavailable for comment.
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Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Dhananjay Munde had alleged large-scale irregularities in the purchase of 549 medicines, together worth Rs 279 crore, by the public health department.
He said they were bought in bulk despite the local authorities having specified in writing that they needed a much smaller quantity, or did not require certain medicines at all. He said the medicines, many of which were already past their expiry date, were stored in the ground floor of the Thane Mental Hospital, leading to spoilage.
Munde, Leader of Opposition in the Upper House, also targeted the tribal welfare department, alleging that the supplies of personal care and food items made to students by the tribal welfare department were of an inferior quality, and purchased only to favour particular
He also alleged that students didn’t get several important supplies such as uniforms and shoes through the year.
Ministers Deepak Sawant (public health) and Vishnu Savra (tribal welfare) admitted to possible irregularities in the purchases, but stopped short of conceding to the Opposition’s demand for an independent probe by a retired judge under the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB).
Savra said in the legislative council, “Last year, we faced hurdles in procurements and there were delays, but it was only because we wanted the entire process to be transparent. The Leader of Opposition mentioned that items such as coconut oil, toothpaste and bathing soap were of an inferior quality. It might have happened. We will appoint a secretary of another department to conduct a detailed inquiry and help in pinpointing those responsible.”
Savra added that he had also taken note of Munde’s observations that tender criteria are decided only to suit certain companies, and as a result, there were delays in procurement.
“We will take action against all involved. This year, we have already started preparations for purchasing clothes, educational material, food and other items, so that students get them on time,” he said.
Sawant said the state has already decided to probe the alleged irregular purchases.
“The inquiry will be conducted in a month and we will place the report before the Assembly. If we find any evidence of corruption in the course of the inquiry, we will appoint a retired judge to further probe matter,” Sawant said.
On Monday, the minister had also announced suspensions of two officials who were then assistant directors, after the opposition cornered him with the alleged irregularities.