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“Didn’t take a single penny”: Assam CM’s wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma rubbishes The Wire claim of receiving ‘illegal supply order’, informs PPE kits were donated

While The Wire claimed that a firm owned by Riniki Bhuyan Sarma was given an urgent order for 5000 PPE kits, she informed that she had actually donated 1485 kits and didn't any take payment

Leftist media portal The Wire continues to publish baseless allegations of corruption on Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma and his wife. On Wednesday, the portal published a report alleging that a firm allegedly owned by Riniki Bhuyan Sarma was given an order to supply PPE kits and other Covid-19 essentials without following due procedure. The report claimed that when Himanta Biswa Sarma was the health minister in the previous Sarbananda Sonowal govt in Assam, a firm owned by his wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma was granted an urgent work order to supply 5,000 PPE kits, despite having  no history of supplying or producing medical equipment and safety gears.

However, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma has refuted the allegations made in the report by The Wire, and said she didn’t take even a penny for supply of the PPE kits. She said that she had donated the PPE kits to the National Health Mission under CSR, and no payment was taken for the same.

The Wire in collaboration with Guwahati-based news portal ‘The Cross Current’ had claimed through a series of Right to Information (RTI) replies that orders for emergency medical supply orders during Covid-19 were given to four considered firms without following a tendering process. The Wire report says that out of the four firms, three are linked to chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma and his family’s business associate.

The Wire claimed that an urgent work order to supply 5,000 PPE kits was given to JCB Industries, of which Sarma’s wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma is the owner. While the Guwahati-based firm is known to produce sanitary napkins, The National Health Mission (NHM), Assam granted the order to Sarma’s company with no history of producing any medical equipment, the report claimed. It further said that the order to JCB industries was given on March 18, 2020 when there was a sudden presence and rise of Covid-19 cases in India.

Through the RTI replies, The Wire also claimed that apart from JCB Industries, orders for PPE kits to two other firms – GRD Pharmaceuticals and Meditime Healthcare were given. As claimed by the portal, the companies are owned by Ghanshyam Dhanuka, Sarma’s business associate. As per the report, the later firms have supplied medical equipment to the state government since Congress was in power in Assam.

With the RTI application that was filed by The Cross Current, the media portal used the replies for its report. The primary accusation is that JCB Industries and Meditime Healthcare failed to meet the delivery of goods on the target date. Secondly, the Wire claimed that PPE kits at higher rate (Rs 990 per piece) were procured from the companies, on the same day it bought PPE kits at the rate of Rs 600 per piece from another Assam-based firm, NE Surgical Industries.

Riniki Bhuyan Sarma’s rebuttal

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma’s wife Riniki Bhuyan Sarma has rubbished the report by The Wire calling it a piece of propaganda. “At the risk of dignifying such malicious propaganda with a reply, The Wire has come out with an unfounded accusation once again,” she said in a statement.

Clarifying the matter of supplying PPE kits, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma said that when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in Assam, there was not a single PPE kit available in Assam, a medical safety unit mandatory for health workers treating Covid-19 patients. Therefore, she had arranged some PPE kits through a business acquaintance and delivered the same to the National Health Mission. However, when the NHM issued a work order against this, so that she can raise an invoice for the supply, she informed the authorities that it is a donation and she will not take payment for the same.

She informed that at a delicate time when PPE kits were available nowehere in Asaam, she stepped forward with the help of her company to help the government with the same. “In the first week of the pandemic, not a single PPE kit was available in Assam. Taking cognisance of the same, I reached out to a business acquaintance, and delivered around 1500 PPE kits to the NHM with a lot of effort. Later on, I wrote to the NHM to treat the same as a part of my CSR. A due acknowledgement enclosed” Sarma said in a statement issued today.

She further added, “I did not take a single penny out of this supply. I have always been transparent about my belief in giving back to the society, irrespective of my husband’s political standing. My organisation has also supported the NHM in the fight against COVID by donating to the Aarogya Nidhi.” It is notable that Aarogya Nidhi is state government’s Financial Assistance Scheme.

Riniki Bhuyan Sarma also attacked an appreciation letter from National Health Mission in Assam, which makes it clear that she had donated the PPE kits, and didn’t accept any payment. The letter written by the NHM Assam Mission Director to JCB Industries says that he extends his heartfelt gratitude to her organisation for helping the govt with 1485 PPE kits. The subject of the letter says that it is an appreciation letter for providing PPE kits as Corporate Social Responsibility during Covid-19 pandemic.

Copy of letter written by NHM managing director, N. Lakhsmanan to the company for Sarma’s CSR initiative

The letter further says, “I appreciate your initiative to come forward and donate the above said item as a part of corporate social responsibility. Therefore, it is clear from the NHM’s letter that Riniki Bhuyan Sarma’s firm had donated 1485 PPE kits to the Assam govt when the healthcare system in the state needed it the most under CSR. The firm was not issued any ‘illegal order’ as alleged by The Wire, and no payment was made for this supply that the media portal tried to question.

It is a surprise that while The Wire could gather so many document through RTI, they could not locate this letter by NHM saying it was a donation. Moreover, they also claimed that while JCB Industries was issued an order to supply 5000 PPE kits, it was cancelled as only 1485 kits was supplied. Therefore, The Wire needs to answer what was scam if the order was cancelled, because no order means no payment.

Sarma lashed out at The Wire when Rinika Bhuyan Sarma said, “If only such propaganda websites were to do things beyond paying mere lip service in times of crisis, India would be in a better place. I will always stay firm in my belief to serve the country, irrespective of such sponsored hit jobs.”

The Wire report also makes some shocking claims, indicating that there was no need to issue urgent orders for PPE kits and other essential items to combat Covid-19 in March 2020. It is notable that during emergencies and urgent needs, governments can bypass the lengthy tendering process and issue urgent orders to procure items and services. It is a normal procedure used by all govts, not just the BJP as the article seems to suggests.

The report claims, “state health department had issued four ‘urgent’ work orders between March 18, 2020 and March 23, 2020 to procure PPE kits and hand sanitisers even prior to the “panicky” situation that had set in due to the national lockdown”, which is complete disregard of the fact of that time. The fact is, Assam had entered the “panicky” situation more than a week before PM Modi had announced national lockdown on March 24, 2020. Assam govt had announced a partial lockdown on 15th March itself, closing down schools and colleges, gyms, cinema halls etc. Such proactive measures by Assam govt in general and then health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had ensured that Assam was able to manage the pandemic well.

Assam govt had built temporary Covid-19 hospitals with thousands of beds even before a single Covid-19 case was detected in the state, and by logics of The Wire, that was a scam because there was “panicky situation”. It is very shocking that a media house The Wire claimed that issuing urgent orders for PPE kits before national lockdown was wrong, while nobody expects them to appreciate a BJP govt for taking proactive steps, especially when there was no PPE kits in the state, the leftist is actually portraying it as a scam.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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