Graft charges over PPE procurement put Karnataka BJP on the backfoot
Amid the steady increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Karnataka, former chief minister and Opposition leader in the Assembly Siddaramaiah mounted a veiled attack on the B S Yediyurappa-led BJP government in the state over alleged corruption in the procurement of PPEs.
Siddaramaiah, in a series of tweets on July 8, questioned Yediyurappa on why his government was not coming clean on the allegations of anomalies worth ₹1,400 crore in the purchases of PPEs and medical devices.
Siddaramaiah alleged that the BJP government spent ₹3,228 crore on supplies including ventilators, PPE kits, oxygen cylinders, masks, and sanitizers, but that the same could have been purchased at approximately ₹1,400 crore. The government procured some of the items at more than double the market price, as reported to the Public Accounts Committee.
While the party insisted that the government make the relevant documents public, there has been deafening silence from the ruling government. However, Chief Minister B S Yedyiurappa appeared to have told the Opposition leader to come to his office and verify records, rather than making it an issue.
However, Siddaramaiah stood his ground and asked the CM to respond to 30 odd letters written to him on this subject and not evade questions related to public money.
“Let the government put forward how the money is spent during the COVID crisis. Why are they evading answers? They should be held accountable for public money,” Siddaramaiah said.
C N Deepak, an activist and member of Karnataka Rashtra Samithi, which is a new political party in the state, brought the issue to light after they submitted documents to the Public Accounts Committee. They sourced documents from insiders in the Karnataka Drugs Logistics and Warehouse Society, which was involved in the procurement of medicines, PPEs, and ventilators.
When asked if the Congress hijacked the whole expose and was trying to politicise the case, Deepak said it was their party who asked the Congress to take up the issue as part of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
“We wanted the investigation to happen in a swift manner and hence asked them to take up the issue as they would have better access to government records, being in the Opposition,” Deepak said.
He said they did not take up the issue in the High Court since they felt the ruling government would evade answers, saying the “matter is in court”.
The PAC, headed by former minister and Congress leader H K Patil, raised the issue last month and sought an explanation from the government. However, Karnataka Assembly Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri stalled the probe by issuing an order on May 27 and barred the House committee from conducting field visits or meeting with officials. He also noted that the PAC acted on the matter without bringing it to the notice of the Speaker.
Speaking to reporters on May 30, Patil alleged that the Speaker was trying to stifle the independence of a statutory institution and said there was no freedom to even investigate irregularities in the state.
Irked by the Speaker’s response, the Congress party members alleged that Karegi’s action amounted to promoting corruption. The party demanded a whitepaper on the issue.
The Congress also linked the issue to Murugesh Nirani, one of the sitting MLAs who is reportedly upset with the BJP for giving him a ministerial berth, but pitching him against party seniors. Siddaramaiah alleged that Nirani had documents pertaining to the scam and asked the government to take a report from him.
However, Nirani claimed he knew nothing about the case.
Siddaramaiah’s fight against the BJP on corruption also stems from the fact that during the 2018 election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused his government of being corrupt and called it a “10 percent sarkar”. Modi alleged that no work in Karnataka happened without people having to pay bribes about 10 percent of the total value.
Modi made these allegations during his political rallies in the state ahead of elections. His government never ordered a formal investigation into these alleged “irregularities”.
The Opposition now hit back at the BJP and asked them to prove they were not corrupt.
When asked about why the BJP was not making the records public, party spokesperson Prakash Shesharaghavchar in Karanataka said the government merely followed rules and the PAC was not a legal authority to investigate or order them to furnish details.
“When the Congress was in power, did they furnish all details when we raised corruption issue? They were no different from us,” Shesharaghavachar told The Federal.
“The CM asked the Congress party leaders to verify documents in his office. Let them go and check but we will not make the documents public,” he added.