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Sunday, June 4, 2023

Kerala’s ‘Rockstar’ ex-health minister KK Shailaja’s fall from grace into corruption, she passes buck to CM

Citing covid contingencies, inflated invoices were allegedly raised by the government of Kerala to purchase life-saving equipment like PPE kits, medicines and medical equipment. Money to the tune of Rs 1600 crore is feared to have been looted. 

PPE kits, earlier procured for just Rs 550 during the 2018 Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode, were bought by Kerala Medical Services Corporation Limited (KMSCL) for Rs 1,550 a piece this time around. Infrared thermometers that cost around Rs 1,500 were purchased on the open market for Rs 5,500 per piece but the exact numbers involved are unknown.

Disgraced “rockstar” KK Shailaja ex-health minister of Kerala and current MLA from Mattanur in Kannur was questioned as to why PPE kits purchased at Rs 550 per piece during the NIPAH outbreak, became Rs. 1550 during Covid? She pointed fingers at chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and said that it was done at his insistence. Her exact words were that “Everything was done with the permission of the chief minister.”

Shailaja had been the cynosure of left-liberal media during the Covid first wave when the ‘Kerala Model’ was tom-tommed to the skies, with likes of BBC rushing to interview her and project her. But that celebration turned out to be tragically premature.

As part of vendetta politics, the government employees involved in these dubious purchases are now being hounded and are on the verge of being dismissed. This news comes from the same state where a police officer found leaking photos and personal details of prominent RSS-BJP leaders to PFI hit squads, was merely suspended.

Purchase invoices of the Kerala Medical Services Corporation Limited (KMSCL) revealed that a mafia indulged in massive corruption and is busy justifying the same in the name of an ‘emergency.’ In return, drug companies involved were made to fork out funds in the northern districts of Kerala during the local body and assembly elections that took place in December 2020 and in April of this year, respectively.

Some relaxations of purchase clauses during Covid can be justified but advance payments were unheard of before in the cash starved state. We now know that Rs 1,600 crores worth of purchases by the KMSCL were done without inviting tenders, and payments were released to companies that just did not exist. A particular company was prepaid Rs. 9 Crores.

The state now borrows 200 crore rupees each day specifically to settle the salaries of administrators. 

Starting March 2020, KMSCL sought Rs 301 crore for purchasing PPE kits and other essential items and Rs 306 crore for ventilators and COVID-19 detection equipment. The communist regime gladly accepted their recommendations and to believe that Shylaja played no part in the same cannot be taken at face value.

A Kazhakoottam-based supplier named Vinyl Nitrile gloves was given an order to import 1 crore gloves, without tenders. Inferior gloves rejected by England, originally from Malaysia that were stored for destruction in the UK, were imported into Kerala and supplied to various government facilities. The same state government that had fixed a rate of Rs 5.75 per piece issued an import order for Rs 12.15 per piece. 

Authorities in a Wayanad district hospital found a silver anklet in a PPE kit. Other medical colleges and district hospitals found blood stains and hair in PPE kits supplied to them, indicating these were second-hand items being sold as new. KMSCL meanwhile ignored all these protests and continued to order products from the same suppliers. 

Advances worth Rs 6.07 crores were released for 60 lakh gloves. Only 20 lakh inferior gloves were supplied and when shortages arose, the government purchased locally. This happened towards the end of June 2020. 

Illegal manipulations allegedly happen to release retention amounts to such suppliers who are not manufacturers and exist only on paper. Such moves come at a time when thousands of Make In India firms exist all over our country that actually manufacture such life-saving equipment. 

In the rush to maximize levies and profits, equipment was ‘installed’ at district hospitals that do not even have three-phase connections. Naturally, they just did not work. Oxygen plants and freezers were dumped in hospitals where they were never used. 

Ventilators ‘worth’ Rs 15 lakh apiece were allocated to private hospitals during the lockdown period but were later moved to district hospitals and remain abandoned. This has left these district hospitals looking for space for maintaining existing beds.

KMSCL purchases were done using a private laptop of a top official of the Corporation and later conveniently deleted. A preliminary investigation uncovered that 3,000 such e-files were destroyed. Authorities transferred corrupt officials to Alappuzha, Malappuram and Kozhikode units, immediately.

A private agency similar to the one that Vijayan’s daughter Veena Vijayan runs in her spare time was assigned to recover the destroyed files. Even then the nexus will scuttle an honest probe into the irregularities unless central agencies examine, locals fear.

The public fears that real numbers will never be found since purchase orders have been deleted by government officers/fixers who acted like private ones at the behest of their political masters. Both fattened their private purses, in this unholy alliance at the worst of times.

So why don’t the Covid numbers come down in Kerala, even though the pandemic was brought under control everywhere else in the nation (before the latest Omicron threat emerged)? Is it because a corrupt administration does not want the pandemic numbers to decline and is busy milking the public who are most affected by the catastrophe? They ashamedly neglect to pay even victims Rs 50,000 each.

Central government teams that rush to the state when they see a spike in Covid numbers should actually investigate the gross misuse of public funds before they come to a conclusion as to why the Covid numbers do not come down in Kerala. In a democracy, blindly providing funds is never recommended

Vijayan has used the communist politburo and replaced the old cabinet at the expense of relatively more un-blemished leaders. 

2021 assembly elections saw KK Shailaja win by a record margin of over 60,000 votes. Yet she was dropped from the cabinet. Ultra-left outlet The Wire termed her exclusion as one that “raised eyebrows.”

As reminded earlier, Vijayan conveniently replaced all the faces except himself in the earlier list of ministers from the ruling CPM. Shailaja was replaced with an authoritarian health minister, an ex-journalist named Veena George (a blatant Christian church appointee). Veena is seen standing amidst Christian godmen, the exact ones who are accused of male patriarchy and covering up for sex abuse by fellow clergy. 

She began her career with the CPM channel, Kairali TV as a reporter. Veena George proved her journalistic credentials when she recently got a reporter arrested on ‘false disrepute’ charges, and a journalist named Nandakumar still remains haunted.

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