Odisha’s government said on Saturday that it had removed nine senior COVID-19 SAI officers in an effort to send “new warriors” to continue the long struggle against the disease that killed eight people in the state .
The clarification came a day after the Opposition Congress and the BJP alleged corruption in the management and purchase of medical and protective equipment against the coronavirus. They alleged that the same equipment was purchased at different prices from different suppliers.
Denying these allegations, Minister of Health and Family Welfare NK Das said that there had been no corruption in the purchase of equipment. “The allegation of different prices for the same item may be due to two factors.”
“First, the incentive offered by the state government if a certain product is supplied by a seller within a specified period. The second factor is the rise in product prices by the central government in March. We bought products therefore, there is no corruption here, as the opposition claims, “said Mr Das.
COVID-19 state spokesman Subroto Bagchi added that some officers must return to their original posts. “Second, if new warriors are not sent to the battlefield, everything will be exhausted because fighting COVID-19 is a long process,” he said.
“Rumors spread quickly during difficult times. And in the age of social media, rumors spread faster than factual messages,” said Bagchi.
Calling on people not to believe the rumors, he said they could demoralize officials working on the ground, thereby putting the entire state at risk.
Bagchi said the administrative reshuffle is essential in a difficult situation. “The government changes its strategies according to the situation and the reshuffle of the officers is part of it.”
Industry Secretary Hemant Sharma, who oversaw the supply of essential pharmaceuticals and protective equipment against COVID-19, was relieved on June 1. Before that, the government transferred N B Dhal from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The officers who have been removed from their COVID positions are the Surendra Kumar Water Secretary, VK Dev Sports Secretary, Krishna Kumar Works Secretary, Aravind Agarwal Director of Social Welfare, Sachin Ramchandra Director of Tourism Yadav and the director of the OSEPA state project Bhupinder Singh Poonia.
Labor Secretary Anu Garg and sports director R Vineel Krishna have also been removed from their positions as COVID-19.
Opposition allegations stem from controversy a week ago over the BJD government’s refusal to take delivery of PPE kits, masks and disinfectants, forcing more than 20 trucks to be stranded in front of the Odisha State Medical Corporation Limited warehouse.
The authorities then decided to accept only PPE kits.
Congress and the BJP demanded a high-level investigation into the purchase of equipment.
“An impartial investigation must be carried out to establish the roots of corruption,” said BJP secretary general of the state, Prithiwiraj Harichandan.
“The simple withdrawal of some crucial post officers will not do justice. A high-level investigation into the procurement issue should be launched,” said Pradesh congressional spokesperson Sudarshan Das.
The state health minister, however, said the purchase of all items and equipment was done in accordance with tariffs set by the central government.
“There is no corruption at all. If the opposition political parties have evidence, they should file written complaints,” he said.