Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Wednesday claimed that medical infrastructure in West Bengal was under stress during the pandemic as the state did not implement the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat scheme. The scheme had played a “significant role” during the Covid-19 crisis, he added.
He also targeted the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government over alleged irregularities in procuring medical equipment for tackling the pandemic.
The Governor made the remarks after launching the Phase-3 regulatory trial of indigenously developed coronavirus vaccine candidate Covaxin at ICMR-NICED here. State minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Firhad Hakim was one of the first people to participate in the trial.
“Because of Ayushman Bharat all over the country, we could have witnessed growth in the medical world… unfortunately, some could not [take] part in this great venture, our state of West Bengal could not, our health infrastructure was stressed on that count,” Dhankhar said. In September, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said her government would implement the scheme if funds for the programme were routed through the state administration, contrary to the provisions laid down by the Centre.
Dhankhar said he was keen to know the outcome of a probe ordered by Mamata Banerjee, who also holds the Health portfolio, into the alleged irregularities in the purchase of medical equipment. He said Banerjee had constituted a committee in August to probe the allegations of corruption. “There has been corruption in the purchase of Covid equipment. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had formed a committee and order a probe. I would like to know what happened to that inquiry? I am keen to know what is the final report of the probe? Who are the beneficiaries of the single tender? If people can create opportunities to make money in a pandemic then it is shameful. The report should be brought before the public,” he added.
Claiming that purchases worth Rs 2,000 crore made during the pandemic allegedly suffered from serious flaws, including “patronage, corruption”, the governor wondered “whether those to be investigated [can] be the investigators themselves”.
“We are shaming our civilisation if people can create opportunities to make money during a pandemic…I am sure that the government will heed my voice that the report should be made public,” he added.
The Governor said the initiative of NICED, or the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, made a significant contribution to tackling the pandemic. “I congratulate them. The experiment will be done on more than a thousand volunteers. Many have approached me that they want to participate in the process voluntarily. I am myself ready to take the bullet on my chest. I am extremely happy to note that during the pandemic crisis in the state, under the leadership of director NICED a team of scientists and medical experts have contributed significantly under difficult circumstances,” he added.
Lashing out at the Governor for “doing politics”, Firhad Hakim later said at the NICED office, “This is not the place for politics. If the Governor has made such statements then it is unfortunate.”
The minister added, “We are also waiting for the day when the vaccine is ready and we can give it to the people of Bengal. The people of Bengal have always been there for me since I was a councillor. What I am today is all because of their support, and I am happy to take the trial. I know this will be successful and I hope we will soon be back to normal life. As far as the vaccine is concerned, I am healthy, if I develop any issue still I won’t have any problem. If the worst happens and I lose my life even then I won’t think twice. Someone has to come forward. If I, as a representative of people, take the trial vaccine, others will also get inspired. It is for everyone and the scientists who are making all the efforts.”
According to NICED officials, more than a thousand volunteers will be tested in three months. Half of them will receive the vaccine candidate while the rest will receive placebo shots. “More than a thousand volunteers will have to be given the shots within three months. Everyone is invited. However, a few health check-ups will be done before the vaccine is given. So far, NICED has received 350 volunteer requests,” said NICED Director Shanta Dutta.
She said Dhankhar had enquired about participating in the trial. Considering his advanced age, the institution’s experts were speaking to his physicians, she added. Dutta said Hakim had expressed his desire to participate in the trial about 10 days ago.
—With PTI inputs