Sreemathi charged with Rs 40-crore drug scam

via PNS | Thiruvananthapuram published on December 2, 2008

The UDF Opposition on
Monday charged Health Minister Sreemathi, a central committee member of
the CPI(M), with adopting corrupt ways for purchasing medicines for the
State through the Medical Services Corporation. Congress member VD
Satheesan said in the State Assembly that drug companies were given
purchase orders on the basis of bribes amounting to Rs 40 crore, of
which Rs 10 crore had gone directly to Sreemathi and senior officials
close to her.

With Speaker K Radhakrishnan refusing to permit
discussion on an adjournment motion on the matter, the entire
Opposition walked out of the House. This was the second time the Health
Minister was coming under Opposition attack for alleged malpractices in
the purchase of drugs since the beginning of the current House session
that started on November 24.

Claiming that he had got
supportive evidences in the form of documents collected under the
provisions of the Right to Information Act, Satheesan alleged that
Sreemathi had sanctioned purchase of drugs through the Medical Services
Corporation, bypassing all norms. He said all tender procedures were
flouted to favour certain monopoly companies which had offered bribes
running into crores of rupees.

The Congress member alleged that
bribe to the tune of Rs 40 crore had been involved in this drug
purchase scam and that Rs 10 crore of this had gone directly to the
Minister and certain officials close to her. Raising the issue in the
House under Rule 285 of the Assembly proceedings, Satheesan said he
could lay on the table enough documents to prove his allegation.

Satheesan
said that the orders for purchase of drugs were placed with a certain
company which had quoted comparatively high prices disregarding four
companies that had quoted the lowest prices. He said the stipulation in
the tender norms that certificates regarding the experience and
credibility of the applying company should accompany the tender papers
had also been flouted. Satheesan also said that tender papers
accompanied by fake certificates had been approved for
placing orders.

The
Opposition demanded a comprehensive probe into the irregularities.
Satheesan said the technical committee clearing companies for supplying
drugs had not endorsed the recommendations and this problem was solved
by the wrong-doers by manipulating the report of the committee.

Replying
to the speech by Satheesan, Health Minister Sreemathi said the purchase
orders for drugs were placed not on the consideration of prices quoted
in the tender papers but the quality level of the medicines from those
companies had also been considered. She said the Government did not
want to compromise on the quality of medicines acquired to be
distributed to the people of the State.

About the allegations
made by the Congress member, Sreemathi said they were all politically
motivated. There was no substance in the allegation that the reports of
the technical committee were manipulated.

Responding to the
demand for a probe into the alleged irregularities, she said inquiries
would also have to be ordered into several deals struck during the rule
of the previous UDF regime. Opposition leader Oommen Chandy said the
UDF had no problems in that and the two probes could progress side by
side.

After the Health Minister’s reply, Speaker Radhakrishnan
refused leave for discussion on an adjournment motion on the matter.
Protesting against this the Opposition walked out of the House. Last
Thursday also, the House had witnessed an Opposition walkout on an
issue related to the acquisition and distribution of drugs through
hospitals.

It was VD Satheesan himself who had moved the notice
for adjournment motion last Thursday also alleging that the medicines
distributed through the Government hospitals in the State were of
inferior quality. Satheesan said examinations had proved that 24
medicines being distributed through the Government hospitals were of
low quality. He said the Government had not been prepared to take
action against the companies distributing these medicines which were
hazardous to health and life.

Sreemathi had then promised to
ensure the quality levels of the medicines. However, she failed to make
any clear statement on whether low-quality medicines were found in the
inspections at the hospitals or whether these were being distributed.

The
Minister claimed there was a mechanism to monitor medicine worth Rs 200
crore a year being distributed through Government hospitals. But in the
case of private hospitals and outlets, there was no such mechanism. It
was for the Central Government to enact legislation in this regard, she
had argued.

Sreemathi said that there was no mechanism available
to monitor the quality of medicines worth Rs 1,800 crore a year being
sold through 15,000 outlets in the State.

The Opposition, before
walking out, termed the situation alarming and shocking. “It is
shocking to learn from the Minister that there is no mechanism to
monitor the quality of medicine being sold in the State,” Opposition
leader Oommen Chandy said.

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