India was going through an alarming surge in COVID-19 infections when the government bought 150 ventilators with Narendra Modi’s PM Cares Fund. Initially, the batch arrived at Government Medical College and Hospital in mid-April, and it distributed the rest to other hospitals in Marathwada. After only a few days, the doctors started raising complaints about the quality and performance of those ventilators. Reportedly, Other regions including Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand have also expressed their concern with ventilators to the public. Many lawmakers and politicians also voiced concerns about corruption and opacity regarding how Modi’s charity was spending the tax payer’s money.
Reportedly, the hospital authorities unboxed only 117 ventilators and did not find it necessary to open the remaining 33 boxes due to their experience with the rest. The unboxed ventilators lie defunct in the hospital since then. This also happened last year in July when congress accused the BJP-led government of procuring substandard ventilators under its poorly defined relief fund scheme. The criticism cut deep because it was a case of corruption in the name of purchasing medical equipment amid terrible oxygen crises in India.
What is PM Cares Fund?
PM Modi established a recovery charity called PM Cares fund (Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund). It aimed to attract international donations for emergency situations in India like the coronavirus pandemic. It claimed to use donations in solving various socio-economic problems in India and also welfare for the underprivileged citizens, minorities, scheduled castes and tribes, and women.
According to reports, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs registered it in March 2020 as a government trust and instantly qualified it in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. It made it able to receive corporate donations while being run by the government. This brought outrage upon Modi’s charity establishment which was not even transparent in defining whether it was a government trust or a private one. Prime Minister Modi and three other ministers are serving as its trustees. Yet, the trust deed clearly mentioned that the charity was neither owned nor controlled by government entities, nor any state member could interfere in the proceedings.
Most of the criticism comes from the opposition parties but the public and some transparency activists have also felt that there was something fishy going on behind the scenes if such basic information is not clearly visible. The issue has entered the High Court accusing BJP of risking patients’ lives by providing defective equipment to hospitals.
Within five days in operation, PM Cares received more than 423 million USD in donations from giants like Mukesh Ambani. The government claimed that PM Cares is not a public body so it is not liable to disclose its donors and expenditure.
What is Wrong with the Ventilators?
The controversy has picked up pace as the BJP-led government has struggled a lot in the healthcare challenge. As of now, more than 338,000 deaths have been recorded out of 28 million infections. Doctors reported dire situations in hospitals and the ventilators they received were ineffective. Reportedly, a team of 8 doctors from Marathwada operated on the machines and said that patients complained about suffering from shortness of breath. It appeared that the ventilator stopped its main function of aiding the patient’s breath after operating for few hours.
Health Minister Raghu Sharma also criticized the ventilators by saying that its sensor was stopping abruptly. He questioned why much money was wasted on purchasing such unusable ventilators. Sukreswami Ramanand Teerth Rural Medical College’s dean Dr. Shivaji Balabhau also noted that it was too risky to use those ventilators. His college received 25 ventilators and all of them posed a life-threatening risk to patients. According to Dr. Balabhau, FiO2 kept dropping till it hit the lowest point at 20% when it should be 100%. FiO2 (Fraction of Inspired Oxygen) is the concentration of oxygen in the air, which is pumped inside the patient’s lung with the help of a ventilator.
According to the PM Cares fund website, the government allocated 20 billion INR to buy 50,000 ventilators with the ‘Made in India’ tag. Furthermore, it also reserved 10 billion INR for migrant labor affected by the pandemic and lockdowns and 1 billion INR for vaccine development. There was no other information with the details that could confirm the honesty or transparency of PM Cares. Still, some well-known personalities kept on donating to the fund amid the tragic situation since the emergence of the Covid-19 Indian variant. Helpless citizens could only try their best to convince financially gifted people to donate to meaningful charities instead.
Indian Government Fails in providing Healthcare through Charity
The news of ineffective expensive vaccines also prompted an investigation into the process of procuring those ventilators. It turned out that the Indian government appointed the task of manufacturing ventilators to inexperienced companies. Only 2 out of 6 companies had prior experience in making critical care ventilators. The price of units ranged drastically from 1.6 lakh INR to 15.34 lakh INR whereas according to local media, a high-end ventilator costs around 12 lakhs in India. It meant that some devices were of good quality while some could have been questionable to their insignificant value.
According to the reports, the states asked for the names and contacts of the companies supplying ventilators to the states. It seemed that the identity of manufacturers of high-end ventilators was missing. It suggested that the Indian government could have taken the expensive ventilators for hospitals run by Modi’s government while third-class ones were given to states. One company JyotiCNC received the order of making 5000 ventilators for 2.41 lakhs per unit despite its considerably less experience. The government claimed that such companies were a part of PM’s Make in India scheme, which gave opportunities to startups. Bombay High Court ruled that they cannot allow such kind of experimentation on covid patients.
The states are advised to not use ventilators until they are fixed. Reportedly, a committee of two senior doctors would inspect and fix the ventilators at Government Medical College and Hospital. These delegations will be from Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi. They notified that equipment can also be replaced if needed.