MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: As the country battles against coronavirus, the Centre and the states are locked in a turf war over procurement of medical equipment. States are up in arms against a central government directive barring them from procuring on their own crucial devices, pointing out that this is against the constitutional provision as health is a state subject.
In a letter written to all the states on April 2, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said the “state government may not go for the procurement of crucial medical devices for COVID 19 management like PPEs, N95 masks and ventilators and these should be procured centrally by ministry and distributed to states”.
The directive was based on a decision taken a day earlier by an empowered group for ensuring availability of essential medical equipment under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The states were asked to revisit the “actual requirement” and to aggregate their demands and come up with a specific figure on a “rational basis”. “This would include fortnightly requirement of state for Covid-19 management,” it said.
“We were aghast to see this circular. In the federal structure, health and internal security are state subjects. But the BJP-led government wants to throttle the right of the states by using the Disaster Management Act,” said a senior minister in the Maharashtra government.
A senior health official in the state claimed they had placed the orders for purchasing the equipment but the Centre forced them to cancel the order at the eleventh hour.
Chhattisgarh health minister T S Singh Deo told this newspaper the order was against the federal spirit and did not seem even “valid”. “The Epidemic Act has been invoked but that doesn’t mean the Centre can take over states’ rights on subjects in the state list,” he said. Ignoring the letter, Chhattisgarh has floated its own tender to procure the equipment. “We are following the procedure to procure the equipment at the earliest,” Deo said.
The health secretary of a northern state said his state, too, had gone ahead with its own procurement process as the central directive was beyond its “ambit”.Dubbing the Centre’s directive as “dubious”, Malini Aisola of the All India Drug Action Network said, “This adds to further uncertainly to an already fraught situation with states already in long waiting lines for supplies which the Centre promised but is unable to make available due to insufficient inventory.”