New Delhi: In 2021, India saw a devastating impact of the second wave of COVID-19 that left the country with innumerable deaths, people gasping for breath, and fighting for essentials like ventilators and oxygen cylinders.
The PM CARES fund which was set up in 2020 for collecting funds for the COVID-19 relief has been raising eyebrows for quite sometime. Now, as per a report by The Hindu, in a recent development, a reply filed by the Union health ministry in response to a Right to Information (RTI) query of Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd), revealed that only Rs 1,532 crore have been released for the purchase and distribution of ventilators from the PM-CARES fund.
A year ago, the Union government, in a release, had stated that Rs 2,000 crore had been allocated for the supply of 50,000 “Made in India” ventilators to government-run COVID-19 hospitals. An official said that the remaining money from the fund is awaiting clearance.
A senior health ministry official told the national daily that 16,000 ventilators which were mostly from private manufacturers had not yet been installed even after the second wave of coronavirus.
Additionally, the RTI reply by the health ministry estimates the cost of the 50,000 ventilators to be Rs 2,147 crore, while the PM-CARES fund has allocated Rs 2,000 crore for the same. The Hindu quoted a health ministry official saying that the bill for Rs 2,147 crore had been sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, but the payment for it was still pending. While the government has maintained that the PM CARES fund is private, PMO officials administer the fund “on an honorary basis”.
As the RTI response states, the ministry put in a purchase order on April 3, 2020, for 58,850 ventilators at a value of ₹2,332.22 crore. Of these, 30,000 ventilators would come from state-run defense manufacturer Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and the rest from various private players via the ministry’s procurement agency Hindustan Lifecare Ltd (HLL).
Subsequently, on May 13, 2020, the PM CARES Fund announced that it would pay for 50,000 ventilators at a cost of ₹2,000 crore. The response to the RTI shows that this included all the BEL ventilators and 20,000 being procured by the HLL.
However, of the initial order of 58,850 ventilators, only 42,000 ventilators have been installed, as per the ministry official. Over 16,000 ventilators ordered from private manufacturers have yet to be installed.