Amid reports of malfunctioning ventilators procured with support from the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund), there is a new revelation about different prices paid to the government-owned company and other private players.
As per information obtained by Delhi-based right to information (RTI) activist, commodore (Cmde) Lokesh Batra (retd), the Union ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) spent Rs2,332.22 crore for buying 58,850 ventilators over the past two years. Out of the total amount, Rs2,000 crore is being provided by the PM CARES Fund for procuring the ‘Make in India’ ventilators.
So far, the PM CARES Fund has released Rs1,497.34 crore to Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Rs35.36 crore to HLL Lifecare Ltd. Both are State-run companies.
As per the RTI reply, which was provided to Cmde Batra after the first appeal, the purchase order for 30,000 ventilators from BEL is valued at Rs1,513.92 crore, which comes to Rs5,04,640 per ventilator. HLL Lifecare issued purchase order (PO) for 28,850 ventilators at Rs818.30 crore to five private companies, namely, Allied Medical, AMTZ Basics, AMTZ High End, Agva Healthcare and Jyoti CNV Automation. The price per ventilator of this order comes to Rs2,83,639.51.
Overall, the ministry had placed a PO for 58,850 ventilators with private players and BEL for a total amount of Rs2,332.22 crore or at an average of Rs3,96,299.06 per ventilator.
However, the question is: When HLL Healthcare released a PO at an average of Rs2.84 lakh per ventilator, why did the MoHFW issue a PO at Rs5.05 lakh per piece? Even if we consider the average price of Rs3.96 lakh (58,850/Rs2,332.22 crore), the amount being paid to BEL is higher by over Rs1.08 lakh.
Further, as per the reply provided by the central public information officer (CPIO), the PM CARES Fund has so far released Rs1,532.7 crore out of the Rs2,000 crore allotted for buying 'Make in India' ventilators. However, in the same reply, the CPIO says, BEL and four private vendors are given orders for 50,000 ventilators.
Cmde Batra asks, “It is mind boggling that why even after one year of purchase order(s) issued on 3 April 2020, the full payment has still not been done. Since ventilators purchased through PM CARES fund are labelled PM CARES, are the taxpayers paying for additional amount beyond Rs2,000 crore spent in procurement of 50,000 ventilators?"
In short, instead of providing information that is available on records, the government appears to be more interested in creating confusion by providing misleading information.
No details are provided by the CPIO on the number of ventilators supplied till date.
Even while the government is tightening regulation, compliance and reporting requirements for all trusts and non-government organisations (NGOs), the PM CARES Fund is listed as a private trust, although the prime minister (PM) in his official capacity is the ex-officio chief of the board of trustees.
While naming the PM as the chairman of the board of trustees, the deed also tries to distance itself from oversight and scrutiny by most government agencies, it is also out of the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, even after collecting enormous funds by making it eligible for funding under corporate social responsibility (CSR). (Read: PM CARES Fund: Public or Private Trust? While Fully Protecting Trustees