Assam: CM Himanta Biswa Sarma's wife denies PPE kit scam
Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, the wife of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, on Wednesday denied allegations of a scam by her company in the supply of PPE kits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking to Twitter, she called the accusations published on the news portal The Wire "unfounded". It alleged that orders were given to four firms of which three were linked to the family.
Based on a series of Right to Information (RTI) replies, the report mentioned the Assam government had ordered COVID-19-related emergency supplies from four firms, three of which were linked to Bhuyan Sarma and the Sarma family's business associate. Bhuyan Sarma's firm—JCB Industries—received the order when Sarma was Assam's health minister. The Wire report was in collaboration with the Guwahati-based website The Cross Current.
JCB Industries received the "urgent order" on March 18, 2020—just days before PM Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020. However, the Guwahati-based company—known for producing sanitary napkins—had never supplied or produced medical equipment and safety gear. Yet, it was given an urgent order to supply 5,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to the National Health Mission (NHM)-Assam, the report said.
Refuting the allegations, Bhuyan Sarma released a statement on Twitter saying, "A website called The Wire has come out with an unfounded accusation with regard to my supply of PPE kits to the NHM." "I wrote to NHM to treat the same as part of my corporate social responsibility. I did not take a single penny out of this supply," her statement read.
Bhuyan Sarma also said that since "not a single PPE kit was available in Assam" in March 2020, she delivered around 1,500 PPE kits to NHM-Assam "with a lot of effort" along with a business acquaintance. To support her claims, she also posted the letter of appreciation dated March 27, 2020, issued to JCB Industries by NHM-Assam director S Lakshmanan for supplying the kits.
RTI replies also revealed both JCB Industries and the Sarma family's business associate Ghanshyam Dhanuka's Meditime Healthcare didn't supply the complete "urgent" order. Still, the government gave more orders to Dhanuka's firms, GRD Pharmaceuticals and Meditime Healthcare, at a higher rate. However, Dhanuka's firms have been regular suppliers to the state health department even in the Congress era when Sarma was the health minister.