Substandard N95 Masks Case: ‘No concrete evidence could be gathered to substantiate allegations’

Court accepts final report as materials not sufficient for considering alleged offences.

ByIFP Bureau

Updated on 23 Dec 2021, 2:52 pm

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After the investigating officer of the case of substandard N95 masks submitted the final report for closure of the case on the ground of insufficient evidence on November 18, the Special Judge (PC Act), Imphal West accepted the report on Wednesday as the available materials were not sufficient for taking cognisance of any of the offences as alleged in the FIR.

The ingredients of the offences have not been established so as to warrant indulgence from the court, stated the court judgment.

The investigating officer submitted in the final report that in the month of March-April, 2020, the medical directorate has so far procured a total of 52,100 N-95 masks from five different firms without issuing supply orders to the respected firms and distributed the masks to District Hospital Authorities and chief medical officers of 16 districts in Manipur, thereby violating the established norms of procurement and distribution.

Out of the 3050 N-95 masks supplied by M/S Fama Marketing, Guwahati, 200 were issued to the District Hospital Churachandpur by Sr MO CMS. Medical Directorate M Dinesh Singh, and they were found to be of substandard quality, unhygienic, soiled, stained, stitched with rusted pins, and unfit for use by the medical staff as medical protective gear.

It was submitted that the officials of the Medical department committed criminal misconduct in collusion with the five firms in procuring the Medical Protective Gear.

It was further submitted that M Dinesh had acted in contravention with the rules and norms in respect of supply and receipt of items by contacting the suppliers verbally, and further procured the items from an agency without issuing any supply orders.

The court opined that though there appears to be a prima facie case of criminal misconduct on the part of Dinesh, his acts have been absolved by the subsequent issuance of office memorandums of the Government of Manipur, considering the extraordinary circumstance prevailing at the time when the whole nation was hard hit by the global pandemic of COVID-19.

Further, the alleged substandard quality N-95 masks could not be recovered or seized despite strenuous efforts made by the investigating agency. Huge loads of items/goods arrived at the CMS during the month of March-April. The officials posted there had difficulty in maintaining a proper record of the items and storing them in proper places.

It is also mentioned in the FR that six new staff with no past experience in the functioning of the store were posted to assist the works of CMS. When goods arrived at the CMS, the staff had to inspect the goods and segregate the substandard items which were to be returned to the respective suppliers.

The court stated that it found it discernible that the lack of experienced staff, the extraordinary circumstances prevailing at the time, and the huge loads of goods arriving at quick intervals of 2-3 days made it an arduous task to keep proper records and storage.

The piling of stocks in a haphazard manner and failure to maintain proper records made it next to impossible for the investigating agency to seize/recover the alleged substandard N-95 mask supplied by M/S Fama Marketing, Guwahati, it stated.

The court stated that the whole procurement was done to meet the emergent requirements of the pandemic which was increasing at an alarming rate through the limited tender process by appointing “L1”. When the “L1” could not supply the urgent need, procurements were made from other suppliers with the approval of the government, and the whole process was rectified by the government.

There is no allegation of causing the wrongful loss to the government and wrongful gain to the accused persons, the court stated. At most, the allegation is of irregularities in floating tender and the same has been approved by the government. The ingredients of the offences charged are not attractive in the case, it stated.  

With the necessary relaxations provided in the procurement of essential services related to COVID-19 by the Government of Manipur by issuing office memorandums as mentioned above and the lapse in the investigation failing to seize/recover the alleged substandard N-95 mask as a result of the prevailing circumstances during that time, the court finds it conducive to accept the final report, it stated. 

First published:22 Dec 2021, 5:37 pm


IFP Bureau

IFP Bureau

IMPHAL, Manipur

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