Substandard N-95 masks scam: Court grants pre-arrest bail to Health Director, three others in Manipur
As per the FIR, between March-April 2020, the Medical Directorate was found to have procured Medical Protective Gear, including 52,100 N-95 masks for the purpose of combating against COVID-19 pandemic from various firms without following the established norms.
The Sessions Judge, Imphal West on Monday granted anticipatory bail to state Health director Dr K Rajo and three others in connection with the case of supply of substandard N-95 masks to Churachandpur district hospital. The three others who were granted the anticipatory bail are Yumnam Karamchand (owner of MS Yumnam agency); Rahul Jain (owner of MS Blue Sky) and Indiver Saikhomcha.
Dr Rajo and Indiver Saikhomcha were not impleaded as accused in the present case.
The accused named in the FIR are: (i) Dr. M. Dinesh Singh; (ii) Proprietors of- (a) Blue Sky Services, Guwahati; (b) Nim Pharmaceuticals, Guwahati; (c) Global Infrastructure & Construction, Dimapur, Kohima (C/o Lords, Delhi); (d) Fama Marketing, Guwahati; (e) Yumnam Agency, Imphal; and (iii) Unknown others.
As per the FIR, between March-April, 2020, the Medical Directorate is found to have procured Medical Protective Gear, including 52,100 N-95 mask for the purpose of combating against COVID-19 pandemic from various firms without following the established norms of procurement and distributed to District Hospital authorities & CMOs of 16 districts in Manipur.
Out of the said 52100 masks, 3050 N-95 masks were supplied by Fama Marketing, Guwahati from which 200 Nos of masks were issued to District Hospital, Churachandpur as per orders issued by Dr M Dinesh Singh, senior Medical Officer, Central Medical Store (C.M.S), Directorate of Health Services, Manipur and all are found to be of substandard quality and unfit for use as Medical Protective Gear to combat COVID-19 pandemic.
On perusal of the case record, the court observed it is clear that the Departmental Tender Committee (DTC) comprising of (i) Principal Secretary (Health & FW), Govt. of Manipur; (ii) Director, Health Services, Manipur; (iii) Joint Secretary (Hr. & Tech. Edn.), Govt. of Manipur; and (iv) Joint Secretary (Finance), Govt. of Manipur vide its proceedings dated 17-03-2020 approved ‘L1’, Blue Sky Services, Guwahati for supply of Covid related items.
The approval of the State Government to the DTC proceedings dated March 17, 2020 was conveyed to the Director of Health Services, Manipur by the Addl Secretary (Health & FW), Manipur vide letter dated March 17, 2020.
Since the required items could not be supplied by the approved supplier alone and keeping in view to combat the exponential upsurge of Covid cases (vide letter dated 17-08-2020) the State Government approved procurement of Covid medical items from other suppliers at the approved rate with a rider that substandard/un-useable items should be rejected.
In the FIR (No. 3(4)2020) registered by the vigilance under Section 120B r/w Section 420 IPC and Section 13(2) r/w 13(1)(a) PC Act, the main allegations against the accused officials and suppliers are that the supply of Covid related medical items were procured without following the established norms of procurement and substandard items were supplied. But, on careful scrutiny of the case diary, the ingredients of criminal conspiracy, ie, agreement to do illegal act or legal act by illegal means, are not made out, said the order. Besides, the ingredients of cheating u/s 420 IPC of dishonestly inducing to deliver valuable property are also not made out.
There is no allegation of wrongful gain by public servants so as to attract offence under Section 13(2) PC Act. On plain reading of the FIR, the only allegations are procurement in contravention of established norms and supply of sub-standard items, the court observed.
Subsequently, the court stated that the whole procurement was done to meet emergent requirements to meet the surging demand of Covid management through a departmental limited tender process and ‘L1’ was selected and the process was approved by the State Government.
Further, the state government also permitted to procure from other suppliers as the approved supplier was unable to meet the huge and unexpected demand. In the process, other suppliers were also permitted to make supply.
All these acts have been rectified and clarified by the State Government in its letter sent to SP vigilance and Anti-Corruption Cell on September 8, 2020 stating that everything was done to fight the pandemic in emergency and there were no wrong doings in the whole process. As seen from the case diary, the basic ingredients of the offences as alleged are lacking, except for mere allegations of not following established norms and supply of substandard items, it stated.
The court order further stated that the investigating agency is opposing bail applications of the persons who are not named as accused such as K Rajo Singh and Indiver Saikhomcha. Till now, no specific allegations are made against the suppliers except for supply of 200 sub-standard masks. As per the prosecution, these 200 sub-standard masks were supplied by M/s Fama Marketing, Guwahati (one of the accused). However, no concrete steps are seen against this firm who supplied substandard masks, but the vigilance police station has objected to bail applications of non-accused.
It is found from the case record that the sub-standard items have been replaced. Since the petitioners’ statements have been recorded and in absence of clear and cogent allegations against them and necessary documents are in the custody of investigation agency, the custodial interrogation of the petitioners are not required.