A few days back,a story jointly authored by The Wire journalist Sangeeta Pisharoty Barua and the online Assamese newsportal Cross Currents created a sensation in Assam and elsewhere.The report states that during the first onset of COVID 19 then Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma claimed that he was the only minister of any state government to have ordered PPE kits in bulk direct from China.Indeed papers here showed photos of Sharma at the airport and published his remarks on the occasion.But the report now goes on to allege that a response to an RTI letter from National Health Mission(NHM) stated that there is no record of any payment for such bulk order of PPE Kits from China from Assam with them.A hue and cry on social media ensued,spilling over to print media,demanding an urgent explanation.On the 27th May Pijus Hazarika,a minister close to present Chief Minister broke silence of the government by dismissing the story and clarifying that the said PPE kits were found defective and the order had been cancelled.Hence there was no question of any payment or any record of such transactions.
It appears to have stopped the story at its track.But the mystery lingers.
I do remember the news on such kits having been found defective and therefore being rejected.But the confusion in details refuses to go away.For example does Health authorities of states have the power to order directly from a foreign country without prior information to Centre and its nod?Secondly,where are the official records of this exceptional order having been placed?It could not have been a private venture by Sharma.And what happened to the huge numbers of PPE kits?How was it proved that they were defective unless somebody wearing such a kit got infected?If so,what happened to the infected person?In the panic around the pandemic at that time people were too concerned with their own safety and that of their dear and near ones to raise such discomforting questions.
But the questions proliferate.How and why did the extravagant claim of a state government ordering such a huge lot of PPE Kits from China arise and get around?Which PPE kits had been reportedly tried and found defective?Where have they been stored or how have they been taken back by the Chinese firm,as it is common practice in trade and commerce? In a late spin on the story it is now claimed that Himanta Biswa Sharma had gone to the airport only to congratulate an unnamed business agency and the crew of the special plane that had carried that cargo.(Dainik Assam,May 29).Then why was the orginal story not disowned until now?Was the cargo off-loaded or not?
The shadowy area in which such doubts remain raises another but more ominous question.If such a lot of PPE kits had indeed been received and the arrival of the lot had been welcomed by Himanta Biswa Sharma,where had it come from?And why had it been sent here?
There were reports in the metropolitan newspapers about Chinese PPE kits found defective by Health authorities in Delhi soon after.What happened to those rejected kits?Were they sent back?Or by some chance did the tainted cargo get sent to Assam to cut down on someone’s losses?A criminal decision if such a decision had indeed been taken,treating doctors and patients in Assam as worse than guinea-pigs.Who had taken such a murderous decision?
Of course all this amounts to sheer speculation.But until and unless things are cleared up such grim suspicions are bound to thrive.
Hiren Gohain is a political commentator