Cong questions govt’s silence in row over Covaxin deal with Brazil

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New Delhi, July 2 (IANS) A day after Brazil decided to suspend the $320 million contract to procure 20 million doses of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin to probe allegations of irregularities in the deal, including the price of $15 per dose, the Congress on Friday demanded that the Centre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan should break their silence on the issue.

Addressing a press conference at the party headquarters, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said: “Indians have the first right on vaccines being made and manufactured here and the government, which is buying vaccines at pre-determined prices from Serum Institute of India (SII) or Bharat Biotech, needs to answer the question of how some export deals still continue.”

Noting Indian vaccines are “at the centre of huge controversy”, she cited the case of Covaxin in Brazil.

“We are perhaps staring at a cancellation of the contract, the Senate is probing into this, two criminal investigative agencies are now probing into this and the taint comes all the way to the ICMR also because it is a co-developer of the vaccine… it is not just Bharat Biotech, which is a private entity,” Shrinate said.

She said that it is important to raise these questions, because Bharat Biotech may be a private entity, but “public fund was diverted for the development of this vaccine, tax payers money was put into this and which is why we have a right to question”.

“What has happened with that money and why is the government conspicuously silent on it,” she asked.

Shrinate noted that Bharat Biotech got into an agreement with Precisa Medicamentos of Brazil and they had signed a contract to supply 20 million doses, but then allegations of huge price rise arose. She said that media reports alleged that Bharat Biotech quoted a price of $1.34 per dose, which was jacked up to $15 per dose, and that is what the Brazilian opposition and the Senate are probing.

The Congress leader said that they are also probing an offshore possible fund diversion by an entity called Madison Biotech related to Bharat Biotech.

“Why is the government silent, when such serious allegations are being raised? The question also is that the ICMR was slated to get 5 per cent of the profit from the sale of Covaxin. But, allegations are that Bharat Biotech was selling to Madison Biotech at a lower price and Madison was garnering the lion’s share of the profit,” she said.

She said it was necessary to know the relationship between Madison Biotech and Bharat Biotech, because these allegations are of a very serious nature and if Bharat Biotech was selling, according to the allegations, at a lower price, then obviously ICMR’s own proceeds get depressed.

She also said that there are allegations that a $45 million offshore payment was sought by Madison Biotech and the centre of the controversy is why this “partner” of Bharat Biotech was asking for this sort of money, which is illegal because it is not a part of the contract signed between Bharat Biotech, Precisa Medicamentos and the Brazilian government.

“Why is the Indian government and the Prime Minister silent on allegation of inflated prices by Bharat Biotech, by its partner – Singapore’s Madison Biotech – which is at the heart of the criminal conspiracy and alleged allegations?

“What is the nature of relationship between Bharat Biotech and Madison Biotech, because if fund diversions happen, this makes for a PMLA case, irregularities of lowering your profits, depressing your taxes is a case of SFIO?”

To a question about Union Health Minister slamming former Congress President Rahul Gandhi over his question asking where the vaccines were, Shrinate said: “Dr Harsh Vardhan should only reply why out of 140 crore people, only 6.6 crore people have been vaccinated.”

Noting that as per the government data, only 6.6 crore have got both doses of the Covid vaccination, which is just 4.3 per cent of the total population, she said that it does not good to play with the data while fighting the Covid pandemic.

–IANS
aks/vd

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