The Centre on Thursday rejected the Punjab government’s allegations that it supplied the state’s faulty ventilators under the PM CARES Fund. The Ministry of Health claimed the lack of infrastructure in the state’s hospitals had resulted in the malfunctioning of the machines.
The clarification came a day after Raj Bahadur, professional adviser to Punjab’s Covid-19 response and procurement committee, alleged that at least 237 of the 320 ventilators received by the Centre under the PM CARES Fund were defective and non-functional, reported The Hindu.
His statements sparked a political controversy with Opposition leaders demanding an investigation into the matter.
According to Bahadur, three government medical colleges in Punjab had received a batch each of defected ventilators from the Centre.
One of them was the medical college in Patiala, which received 98 ventilators through the PM CARES Fund, he told the newspaper. “Though 48 of them were made functional after repair, they are still not put to use because the anaesthetists are not confident lest they should break down at critical times,” he added. “Another 50 are non-functional there.”
The health official said the college was relying on its own 61 ventilators to treat patients.
At the Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital in Faridkot, which caters to 10 Malwa districts of Punjab, Bahadur said only 32 of the 92 ventilators were in working condition, reported The Indian Express. “Their quality is so inferior that they cannot be put to use,” he told the newspaper. “They were tried by our doctors, but they never worked properly.”
The Tribune, however, reported that the hospital had received 80 ventilators out of which, 70 had technical glitches. The ventilators were manufactured by AGVA Healthcare, according to the website.
Meanwhile, at the medical college in Amritsar, only 12 of the 109 ventilators provided by the Centre were functional, according to The Hindu.
Bahadur told The Hindu that state authorities had been regularly informing the Centre about the problems they were facing with the machines. “As the number of Covid patients is increasing, there is tremendous pressure on the institutions for providing ventilators to critically ill patients,” he said.
But help arrived only on Wednesday when the central authorities sent its officials to check the ventilators. “Now, engineers have arrived to repair them, let’s see if they can be used after being repaired,” Bahadur also told The Indian Express.
‘Unfounded reports’: Centre
The Centre dismissed media reports quoting Bahadur as “unfounded” and that authorities in Punjab were raising the matter of ventilators being non-functional “without any basis”.
In its statement from Thursday, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said that it seemed these reports did not have “the full information on the matter”.
Referring to The Tribune report regarding 71 of 80 AGVA make ventilators being non-functional or faulty at the GGS Medical College and Hospital of Faridkot, the health ministry clarified that 88 ventilators had been supplied by Bharat Electronics Limited and only five were by AGVA.
“After successful installation and commissioning, these ventilators were provided with Final Acceptance Certificate by the hospital authorities,” it added.
The Centre said that Bharat Electronics had confirmed that bulk of the ventilators were not faulty “as are being reported in a section of the media”.
“Their engineers have visited the medical college on different occasions to address the complaints received and carried out minor repairs required promptly,” the statement added. “They have even conducted repeated demonstrations of the functioning of the ventilators to the staff over there.”
The health ministry said that as per the engineers, the hospitals had infrastructure problems, including non-availability of required pressure in the central oxygen gas pipelines.
“Further, consumables like flow sensors, bacteria filters and HME filters are not being changed by the hospital authorities according to the prescribed norms, or the ventilators are being used without these important consumable items,” the statement added.
The ministry also accused the hospital authorities of not following the guidelines issued to all the ventilator users regarding infrastructure requirements, proper usage and maintenance.
Opposition demands probe
Meanwhile, Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to order an inquiry into the matter.
“I am sure you would agree with me that supplying defective and inferior quality ventilators during a time of national health emergency is a criminal offence,” he said. “The company responsible for this should be booked and they should be proceeded against as per the law.”
Aam Aadmi Party MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwan said the Centre “was messing with the lives of the people”. He also blamed the ruling Congress government in Punjab for the poor healthcare facilities in the state, according to The Hindu.