The PM CARES Fund has been a topic of debate for many since its inception. Created to provide relief measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many, including opposition leaders had criticised the Fund, wondering why the money therein was not being utilised, or why it could not be audited (it now has in independent auditor).
Many of the naysayers were silenced when, in mid-May, Rs 3,100 crore was allocated from the fund to fight the virus and its effects. "Out of Rs 3,100 crore, a sum of approximately Rs.2,000 crore will be earmarked for the purchase of ventilators, Rs. 1,000 crore will be used for care of migrant labourers and Rs.100 crores will be given to support vaccine development,' the PIB announced on May 13.
With a large part of the allotted amount being set aside for the purchase of ventilators, some on the internet have since focused on the companies that the government would be purchasing these ventilators from. Again, a PIB press note from June 23 sheds light on this.
"Out of the 50,000 ventilators, 30,000 ventilators are being manufactured by M/s Bharat Electronics Limited. The remaining 20,000 ventilators are being manufactured by AgVa Healthcare (10000), AMTZ Basic (5650), AMTZ High End (4000) and Allied Medical (350). So far 2923 ventilators have been manufactured, out of which 1,340 ventilators have already been delivered to the States/UTs. The prominent recipients include Maharashtra (275), Delhi (275), Gujarat (175), Bihar (100), Karnataka (90), Rajasthan (75). By the end of June 2020, additional 14,000 ventilators will be delivered to all States/UTs," the PIB clarified.
On Saturday however, many on the internet were irked after a Huffington Post report claimed that two former employees had told the publication that AgVa Healthcare had allegedly manipulated the software running its low-cost ventilators to make the devices seem as though they were pumping more oxygen.
This article was quoted by many including Prashant Bhushan and Manish Tewari. While the former simply quoted the first paragraph of the report, Tewari urged Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan to look into the issue.
"This can be a life and death issue. If this story is correct then hospitals must be advised not to use these ventilators In any case this merits an Independent evaluation by a team of credible experts," he wrote.
However, even as people went back and forth, debating the allegations, RTI activist Saket Gokhale went a step further. In a lengthy Twitter thread he alleged that this was a "scam" and borrowed from government data and news reports to back up his claims.
According to Gokhale, many of these ventilators were reportedly rejected by two hospitals in Mumbai. He cites the Huffington Post report to make the claim.
Incidentally, this had been reported by several publications including a CNBC TV18 report. AgVa Healthcare however has refuted claims that its ventilators were not meant for critical COVID-19 patients.
“All our ventilators are fully functional. AgVa ventilators are completely tested by a government panel and qualified on tender specifications. A few specifications were changed in HLL tender before purchase and those were also complied with before supply,” the publication quoted AgVa to say.
But even here, Gokhale has something to add. Speaking about the tenders, he alleges that they were updated a whopping nine times.
"On 5 Mar, govt-owned HLL Lifecare issued a tender for procurement of ventilators. This tender was amended a number of times. On 27 Mar, an amendment was issued which made 2 conditions: (a) co. should have EU/US FDA approval (b) co. should have a service centre in Delhi," he claims.
According to Gokhale, it was revealed on March 31 that the government had already placed orders for 40,000 ventilators. "Of these, 30,000 were to be produced by Skanray-BEL & 10,000 by AgVa healthcare. Neither of these 2 cos. had EU/US FDA approval as the tender required," he contends.
In a follow-up tweet he says that the tender was changed to drop these requirements.
Netizens are rather divided about the situation. While some have discounted the reports and allegations, others were incensed at the same. Others still opined that the issue warranted further scrutiny.
Take a look at some of the posts: