Amid the rising mismatch between demand and supply constraints in the availability of oxygen and medicines, including Remdesivir and vaccines, the state cabinet chaired by the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday took the crucial decision to bid goodbye to the tendering process and appointed a three-member committee headed by Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte, authorising him to expedite the procurement of medical equipment to combat the virus. The other two members of the committee will comprise Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) Manoj Saunik and Principal Secretary (Health) Dr Pradeep Vyas.
A senior minister told The Free Press Journal, “The cabinet expressed concern over the increasing shortage of medicines, oxygen and health infrastructure even as the number of Covid-19 patients are rising. The tender process was taking a long time in the procurement of medical equipment needed urgently. The ministers were unanimous that it should be done away with, in a bid to speed up the procurement process. The cabinethas, therefore decided to take away the procurement process from the Haffkine Bio-Pharmaceutical Corporation. A committee headed by the Chief Secretary has been delegated all powers to procure medical equipment including ventilators, oxygen and medicines directly from the market at competitive rates, without tendering process. The cabinet has assured that necessary funds will be made available for procurement.” He said the cabinet was unanimous that all ministers would defend the decision and collectively appear before the court in the event the move was challenged.
“Early procurement is needed as the state is managing 1,400-1,500MTs of oxygen daily from producers within the state and from Bhilai, Bellary and Visakhapatanam. Besides, the Centre has decided to run the Oxygen Express. However, the health department has estimated that oxygen demand will cross 2,000MT if the Covid cases continue to rise at the present pace,” said another minister. He noted that hospitals were closing down for want of oxygen and the government wanted to streamline oxygen supply at the earliest.
Further, the state government was facing acute shortage of Remdesivir, a crucial drug used for treating Covid patients. “Seven companies have assured us of supplying 70,000 vials daily after three-four days, as they have ramped up production. However, the tendering by Haffkine was taking time. In between, a tender was cancelled on technical grounds. The committee will organise the procurement of Remdesivir and other medicines,” a senior bureaucrat from the health department said.
In addition, the chief Secretary-led committee will focus on increasing beds and ventilators and will take a call on early procurement so that the districts can breathe a sigh of relief.