Covid-19: States protest against Centre’s directive on PPE procurement
The states were told in a note that PPEs, N-95 masks and ventilators will be procured by the Centre and then distributed to the states.Updated: Apr 10, 2020 09:31 IST
A directive by the Centre, asking states to not procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for Covid-19 on their own, has led to protests from states.
In a notification sent to principal secretaries of the health departments of states on April 2, the Union ministry of health and family welfare asked them to not procure crucial medical equipment such as PPEs, N-95 masks and ventilators on their own, as they will be procured by the Centre and then distributed to the states. The decision was taken at the third meeting of the empowered group formed to look at procurement of medical equipment that took place on April 1, the note said.
By way of rationale, the notification said that states were found to be hoarding these materials as field functionaries, such as care working as essential service providers, continued to work without them. In some areas, inventories which can do with some repair work, were lying, the Centre noted.
A senior government official, involved in the process, said that the move was prompted by reports coming in from states that in states where domestic producers of PPEs are situated, state officials have insisted that the produce be sent to states instead. India has just started domestic production of PPEs.
The textile ministry has readied over 45 producers to manufacture PPEs such as masks and coveralls - that require non-woven fabric - as well as manufacturers of such fabric. N-95 masks are being made by two domestic producers with the help of DRDE, while ventilators are manufactured by two other producers domestically. In addition to that, Indian auto manufacturers are also preparing to step up manufacturing of ventilators.
The official said there were reports that some of the states were individually procuring PPEs which were untested by authorised agencies.
To ease shortage, the Centre has announced the lifting of basic customs duty and health cess till September 30 on crucial medical equipment such as ventilators, face and surgical masks, PPEs, Covid-19 test kits, and on any item that goes into the making of these items. A notification was issued by the finance ministry’s department of revenue on April 9.
The move has led to protests from states. Former Lok Sabha MP from Kerala, MB Rajesh said that the Centre is trying to wash its hands off its failure to act in time and because of this move, states will suffer.
“The first case was detected on January 30 and the lockdown was announced on March 24; the government had 54 days to act, but it wasted time. One cannot eradicate Covid-19 by lockdown, so every state has to prepare,” he said.
He added that since health is a state subject, states should be allowed to do their own procuring.
DMK MP from Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri, Dr Senthilkumar S, took to Twitter to voice his protest. He said that he strongly condemns the move to make health care centralised, and that Tamil Nadu and Kerala will be affected the most. “This is (an) infringement on state’s federalism,” he tweeted.
The move could well be revised soon, said a senior textiles ministry official. Nihar Ranjan Dash, joint secretary at the textiles ministry, said that the health ministry’s move might have been prompted by a need to “rationalise” procurement and inventories. He said that the domestic manufacturers whose samples were tested and approved by the textile ministry have started producing 15,000 units of PPEs such as masks and ventilators per day.
“By April 20, we will be producing 30,000 units per day easing the shortage,” said Dash.