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Kerala's ex-minister rejects charges of irregularities in purchase of PPE kits

THIRUVANTHAPURAM: Senior CPI (M) leader K K Shailaja has rejected corruption charges in the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) kits for an exorbitant price during the COVID-19 pandemic period and said it was done with the knowledge of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to ensure the protection of health workers.

When the health department faced a scarcity of the protective gears, the CM directed procurement of PPE kits ensuring its quality and thus the purchase was made spending Rs 1,500 for each kit, which had earlier been available for just Rs 500, she noted.

Shailaja, who had won global accolades for her effective handling of the COVID situation, was speaking after inaugurating a cultural programme organised by an NRK organisation in Kuwait on Friday.

The former minister came up with an explanation in the wake of anti-corruption watchdog Lok Ayukta issuing her a notice based on a corruption complaint in the purchase of the PPE kits two years ago.

Shailaja said the Kerala Medical Services Corporation (KMSCL) people had informed her that the stock of the PPE kits with them was about to be over and the life of health workers would be in danger if it was not purchased.

“I asked the CM and he said it can be procured from any available source... but the quality should be ensured. It was a time when the manufacturers had raised the price of PPE kits exorbitantly. If a kit was available for Rs 500 before, they began to charge Rs 1,500 for each kit during the time,” she recalled.

However, the government decided to purchase it for the hefty price as the lives of people were more important, she said.

Pointing out that under the Disaster Management Act, the government has the freedom to collect such protective equipment waiving other things, the leader also said a decision was taken to purchase 50,000 PPE kits spending Rs 1,500 for each kit.

“Of this, a total of 15,000 kits had been bought for the same price. By that time, the market price of the PPE kits began to come down. So, we cancelled the order for the remaining 35,000 kits and later purchased it for the lower market price.”

Not just flowers but thorns should also be expected while doing such things but that was not at all an issue, Shailaja added.

Chief Minister Vijayan and the ruling CPI (M) were yet to react to Lok Ayukta's notice on the PPE kit purchase.

Meanwhile, LDF MLA K T Jaleel on Saturday shared a Facebook post criticising the anti-corruption agency without directly mentioning the notice served to Shailaja.

He said it was good to inform the world that Lok Ayukta knows how to conduct preliminary inquiry and serve notice to the party.

The legislator indirectly indicated that he was not heard properly by the watchdog and passed a 'unilateral judgement' when a nepotism case against him was considered by it during the time of the first Pinarayi Vijayan government. Jaleel had to resign as Higher Education Minister after Lok Ayukta found him guilty of nepotism.

Reacting to the Lok Ayukta notice against Shailaja, BJP state chief K Surendran said the graft charges in the purchase of PPE kit was just a tip of the iceberg of corruption that had taken place during the time of the first Pinarayi Vijayan government.

“It was all done with the knowledge of the Chief Minister. The CM and the CPI(M) should answer. Those who looted the coffers while the state was facing a pandemic were enemies of humanity,” he alleged.

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