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Alleged profiteering by distributors supplying the kits

Virus scan: Medical staff take samples from a person for a rapid antibody test in Vijayawada on Monday. V. RAJU

India does not stand to lose a single rupee, said the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Monday in response to a clarification sought on the alleged profiteering by distributors, exposed through a legal dispute between an importer and a distributor, in the delivery of rapid antibody testing kits to it.

According to details provided in the Delhi High Court, the kits procured from China, whose delivered cost was ₹245 a test, were sold to ICMR for ₹600 a test — a mark up of 145%.

The matter came to light when Rare Metabolics Life Sciences Pvt Ltd and Aark Pharmaceuticals, distributors of Chinese Wondfo Biotech’s kits imported by Matrix Labs, approached the High Court recently to get delivery/payment disputes cleared. The Council, in a one-page clarification, noted that it had not made any payment whatsoever in respect of the supplies — “because of the due process followed (not going in for procurement with 100% advance amount)”.

It should be remembered that this was the first-ever effort by any Indian agency to procure such kits and the rate quoted by the bidders was the only reference point, the ICMR stated. “Testing is one of the most crucial weapons to fight COVID-19 and ICMR is doing everything it can to ramp up testing. This requires procurement of kits and supplying them to the States. This procurement is being undertaken when globally there is a huge demand for these test kits and various countries are applying their full might, monetary and diplomatic to acquire them,” it said.

The ICMR said it was important to understand the background in which procurement decisions were made. It said the first attempt to procure kits did not elicit any response from suppliers. “Our second attempt got adequate response. Of these responses, taking sensitivity and specificity in mind, kits of two companies [Biomedemics and Wondfo] were identified for procurement. Both had the requisite international certifications.”

But banks may remain risk averse

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has announced a special window of ₹50,000 crore for mutual funds in view of the redemption pressure that the fund houses are facing.

While announcing the window, the RBI said the liquidity stress was limited to high risk debt funds and the larger industry remains liquid.

Under the scheme, the RBI will conduct repo operation of 90 day tenor at the fixed rate repo.

Funds availed under this facility will be used by banks exclusively for meeting the liquidity requirements of mutual funds by extending loans, and for undertaking outright purchase of and/or repos against the collateral of investment grade corporate bonds, commercial papers, debentures and certificates of deposit held by the funds, the central bank said.

Franklin Templeton

The move comes after Franklin Templeton Mutual Fund last week decided to wind up six debt funds that have combined assets under management of nearly ₹26,000 crore on account of illiquid and low-rated instruments in its portfolio.

The fund house said it decided to wind up the schemes to preserve the value at least at the current levels. Their value was getting eroded due to a combination of redemption pressures and mark-to-market losses due to a lack of liquidity on account of the coronavirus impact on the markets, it said.

With several agencies in India involved in the procurement exercise, ensuring quality may have been not be possible, says Indian Ambassador to China

India is working together with Chinese authorities to identify bona fide suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies, says the Indian Ambassador to China,Vikram Misri, stressing that all procurement by the government is going through independent third-party inspection, amid concerns about Chinese supplies.

The External Affairs Ministry has said more than 400 tonnes of medical equipment from China have arrived in the past two weeks. How are the two countries working together during the pandemic?

India is in the process of commercially procuring a large amount of medical supplies from China. Our priority is for quality products to be available at reasonable and stable prices and enable their transport in an efficient and timely manner to India. We have been working together with the Chinese side on identifying bona fide suppliers, facilitating customs procedures and expediting flight clearances, etc. Smooth cooperation in these areas would be an excellent development in our bilateral relations.

Tens of thousands of PPE kits failed quality tests, and the use of rapid antibody test kits had to be put on hold. Why has India continued with imports?

China happens to be among the world’s largest producers of some of the medical supplies that India is looking to procure at this moment. With regard to quality issues with the rapid antibody tests, you may have to inquire with the agencies at the Indian end that were involved with the procurement process. Regarding PPE kits, it may be noted that several agencies in India, including private entities, are involved in this procurement exercise and may not have been in a position to look at quality-related issues in detail.

As far as the procurement of PPE kits by the Government of India through the Embassy in Beijing is concerned, we are taking care to ensure that this is confined to a list of approved and qualified suppliers who figure on an official Chinese Government list. Chinese authorities have also added an extra quality inspection requirement for all consignments before they are handed over to customs authorities.

We are also doing our part in the quality assurance exercise by insisting on an independent third-party inspection by reputed agencies [such as SGS Switzerland and Bureau Veritas]. Indeed, it is through this third party inspection that we have been able to detect issues with a recent consignment and have had it returned to the manufacturer for rectification.

China has called India’s decision to push FDI from neighbours through the government route a discriminatory move, violating global commitments. What is your response?

There is no prohibition or bar on investments resulting from these procedural changes, which have been made with full cognisance of India’s international commitments.

Will this slow the flow of Chinese investments into India?

India continues to remain among the most attractive global destinations for FDI. Capital only seeks returns, and as long as India continues to be a profitable place to do business, I do not expect the trend of investment into India from anywhere in the world to change.

Is India exploring any formal cooperation to learn from mistakes and best practices adopted by Wuhan?

Members of the Indian scientific fraternity had participated in a video conference organised by the Chinese side that was dedicated to sharing China’s experiences in tackling the COVID-19 crisis.

There may be more such opportunities in future, and we will look forward to participating in them. Right now, the preoccupation in both countries is to deal with the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic.

Institutes like the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research have collaborated in the past in studies with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Do you see more such collaborations, or will they come to an end after the pandemic?

Public health issues, epidemiology, vaccine development, etc., are areas with significant potential for cooperation between India and China, given our large populations, and our large pools of scientific and technological manpower. I think it would be mutually beneficial to remain engaged in these areas.

The agencies concerned would be better placed to answer questions on specific programmes of cooperation.

Celebrations for the 70th year of India-China relations have been put on pause. Will the informal summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi be postponed this year?

At the second Informal Summit in Chennai, Prime Minister Modi and President Xi had agreed to celebrate this event through 70 activities. The outbreak has obviously interrupted our plans. We may, thus, not necessarily be able to undertake every activity, but it remains our intention to try and do as much as possible in the time that is available to us. Both sides remain engaged on the issue, and we hope we can resume engagements at the earliest possible, whenever it is safe and healthy to do so.

I have asked State Ministers to ensure that there is enough supply of drinking water during the lockdown and in the weeks ahead, says Jal Shakti Minister

Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat speaks on how India is placed in terms of water availability as COVID-19 underlines the necessity of piped supply and the situation in his home State Rajasthan, which remains worrisome:

Under a lockdown with summer approaching and with the injunction of constant hand washing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, how is India placed in terms of just water availability?

The plentiful rains last year and heavy snowfall in the Himalayan States have ensured that in terms of just volumes, we are pretty well off this year. I did a review of 132 reservoirs under the Central government, which are out of the 5,000 total reservoirs but which provide two-thirds of the total supply of water across the country. I am happy to say we have 56% more water than we had last year in the reservoirs, which is 47% higher than the average for the last 10 years. So in terms of reservoirs, etc., we have no worries. This year too we have been told that the monsoon will be plentiful.

Water is a State subject, what has been the feedback from the States?

Every summer there is always an issue with regard to availability etc. This year, because the COVID-19 lockdown has entailed that people stay at home, it is even more important to ensure supply. The first thing I did is to hold review meetings with Water Ministers of all States and asked them to ensure that there is enough drinking water during the lockdown and the weeks ahead. We have gone over the reservoir situation and of water works. There is enough water to get us through this period, both for drinking and irrigation.

The Jal Jeevan Mission was launched last year and there is a time-table to its implementation, how has COVID-19 affected it ?

The Jal Jeevan Mission was launched by hon’ble Prime Minister in September last year and yes, it is a time-bound programme, with its urgency underlined by the fact that COVID-19 is accompanied by lockdowns and the emphasis on hand-washing as a preventative. We have been creative in terms of trying to reach some of our goals despite the lockdown disruption. For example, we have asked all our engineers to complete the drafting and on paper preparatory work for the project.

We have divided the mission works into those where only retrofitting is required, those where existing water bodies need to be harnessed and green field works. This has been done so that whatever can be done is finished in time. The importance of the Mission cannot be emphasised enough under the present circumstances and we are determined that our promise of piped drinking water to every home be fulfilled in the time-frame suggested earlier.

Your home State Rajasthan and your constituency Jodhpur have been badly afflicted by COVID-19. What kind of information are you getting, since you haven’t been able to visit?

Jodhpur has been badly affected and most of the cases there are because of the Tablighi Jamaat preachers and the mishandling of the situation.

My constituency also includes Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s Assembly seat and the curfew or lockdown imposed there was handled very badly and very leniently. We have one example of Bhilwara where things were handled well, but we can’t ignore what is happening in Jodhpur and Jaipur, where the administration is not able to get a handle on things.

‘Country’s tensions and rivalry with Pakistan, China among major drivers for increased expenditure’

By leaps and bounds: India’s expenditure grew 259% over a 30-year period between 1990 and 2019.File photoFile photo

The global military expenditure rose to $1917 billion in 2019 with India and China emerging among the top three spenders, according to a report by a Swedish think tank, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“In 2019, China and India were, respectively, the second- and third-largest military spenders in the world. China’s military expenditure reached $261 billion in 2019, a 5.1% increase compared with 2018, while India’s grew by 6.8% to $71.1 billion,” the report said.

In 2019, the top five largest spenders — U.S. ($732 bn), China, India, Russia ($65.1 bn) and Saudi Arabia ($61.9 bn) — accounted for 62% of the global expenditure. The annual report ‘Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2019’ was released on Monday.

“India’s tensions and rivalry with both Pakistan and China are among the major drivers for its increased military spending,” the report quoted SIPRI Senior Researcher Siemon T. Wezeman. The $71.1 billion spent by India on defence in 2019 was 2.4% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). India was at the fourth position in 2018 with Saudi Arabia at the third.

Significant rise

Stating that India’s expenditure in 2019 was 6.8% more than that in 2018, the report says the country’s military expenditure has risen significantly over the past few decades. “It grew by 259% over the 30-year period of 1990–2019, and by 37% over the decade of 2010–19. However, its military burden fell from 2.7% of GDP in 2010 to 2.4% in 2019.”

While India’s defence spending excluding pensions, which constitute a significant part, has been growing in absolute terms, it has been going down as a percentage of its GDP as noted by the report. For instance, the defence allocation in the latest budget for 2020-21 which was ₹3.37 lakh crore, excluding defence pensions, accounts for about 1.5% of the country’s GDP, the lowest in recent times.

In comparison, Pakistan’s military expenditure rose by 70% over the decade 2010–19, to reach $10.3 billion while the military burden increased from 3.4% of GDP in 2010 to 4% in 2019, says the report. Pakistan was at the 24th position in 2019 compared to 19th in 2018.

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