By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Jan 22 (IANS): In a New Year gift to the Shiv Sena (UBT) and the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, the Maharashtra Lokayukta has given a clean chit to the civic body from committing any irregularities or non-transparency into the alleged Remdesivir scam, raised by former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya.
Simultaneously, the Lokayutka, Justice V.M. Kanade, has urged the Maharashtra government to enact suitable legislation to ensure availability of life-saving drugs at reasonable prices to the masses and prevent misuse by way of black-marketing.
Justice Kanade said that during the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no effective machinery to direct private manufacturers to sell lifesaving drugs at particular fixed prices.
"The state of Maharashtra ought to have brought a legislation or ordinance directing the manufacturers to make the supply of lifesaving drugs available at a reasonable rate. If the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, do not give powers to the government, a suitable amendment has to be made to the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897," the Lokayukta observed.
Justice Kanade said it is common knowledge that whenever demand goes up, and it cannot be matched with the supply of lifesaving drugs, medicines are sold in the black market by anti-social elements.
"The government of Maharashtra, therefore, shall devise a proper action plan by issuing necessary notification, regulation and pass appropriate Act to curtail this menace so that if such a situation arises in future, the government is equipped with adequate powers to ensure proper supply of lifesaving drugs," said the Lokayukta.
On similar lines, the BMC and other civic bodies should also take a policy decision and ensure that the lifesaving drugs supplied to them do not fall in wrong hands and are used for the purpose of treatment of those suffering from diseases.
As to Somaiya's complaint alleging corruption in the procurement of Remdesivir injections at the height of the pandemic (2020-2021), the Lokayukta said it has not been "established and proved" that there was any corruption in the purchase of the lifesaving injections by the respondent (BMC).
"It is also not proved that there was irregularity and non-transparency in the purchase of this injection by them (BMC)," Justice Kanade said in his 18-page order.
The Lokayukta noted that it is abundantly clear from the documents provided by the BMC, including the Centre's letter, that there was sharp variance in the purchase price of Remdesivir injection in a couple of weeks after March 2021 owing to increased demand and reduced supply by the manufacturers and dealers.
Somaiya had pointed fingers at BMC, the state Director Medical Education & Research (DMER), the Haffkine Bio-pharmaceutical Corporation Ltd., and the Mira Bhayander Municipal Corporation (Thane) in his complaint dated April 2021.
He had claimed that Remdesivir vials were purchased flouting norms and there was a huge fluctuation of rates - ranging from Rs 658-1,600 per vial - thus alleging huge corruption in the deal.
The BJP leader's contentions were largely considered political targeting of the BMC, which is ruled by the Shiv Sena for the past over 25 years, even as the civic body is now preparing for elections soon.
Accordingly, the Lokayukta probed Somaiya's allegations on the question of non-transparent procurement of Remdesivir injections, corrupt practices by the BMC and other respondents, to see if the justifications given by them on this issue was acceptable, and if any recommendations were needed to be made to the state/civic body to regulate the sale-purchase of such lifesaving drugs during any future pandemic.