COVID Vaccine Procurement Data: Govt Misleading Public & Supreme Court?
RTI reveals government placed second COVID vaccine order on 11 April while their affidavit says 12 March.
On 26 June, the Government of India filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on the COVID-19 vaccination program including procurement, distribution and a timeline on vaccinating people of India.
The Quint found that the details of the procurement of COVID vaccines provided by the government does not match with information shared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHF) under Right To Information (RTI).
Here is how.
In an RTI reply received by transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd.) on 10 June, MoHF shared detailed information related to COVID vaccine procurement by the government.
As per the RTI,
The First Purchase Order for 6.6 crore doses (5.6 crore doses of COVISHIELD and 1 crore doses of COVAXIN) of COVID vaccines was made under the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situation Fund (PM CARES Fund). The RTI does not mention the date of purchase of the first order.
The government's affidavit to SC says,
The First Purchase Order for 6.6 crore doses was placed on 10 January 2021 under the (PM CARES FUNDS).
So far the data is matching, the problem of mismatching data starts from the second order onwards.
The RTI says,
The Second Purchase Order for 12 crore doses (COVISHIELD 10 crores doses and COVAXIN 2 crores doses) of vaccine was placed on 11 April by the Government of India under the Union Budget – almost three months after the vaccination drive started in India on 16 January. By this time the country was already in the grip of the lethal second COVID-19 wave.
The government affidavit says,
The Second Purchase Order for 12 crore doses was placed on 12 March (date of purchase) and the timeline for the procurement was between March and May.
The date for the second purchase order mentioned in the RTI and the date mentioned in the affidavit varies by ONE MONTH. How is that possible? Clearly, both cannot be correct. One is misleading, but which one?
Again as per the RTI,
Within 10 days of the second order, on 22 April, the Government of India issued the Third Purchase Order for 16.5 crore doses (COVISHIELD 11 crores doses and COVAXIN 5.5 crores doses) of vaccines. The order was understandably larger, as the demand for vaccines was expected to sky rocket in Phase 3 of the vaccine drive which allowed vaccination for all above the age of 18 from 1 May.
While the affidavit says,
The Third Purchase Order for 16 crore doses (COVISHIELD 11 crores doses and COVAXIN 5 crores doses) was placed 5 May. And the timeline of supplies was between May and July.
In the third order, there is again a discrepancy about the date of the purchase order, a gap 14 days between the dates mentioned in RTI reply and the government affidavit. There is also a difference in the number of vaccine doses in the third order – the RTI reply says, 5.5 crore doses of COVAXIN were ordered, while affidavit says 5 crore doses. There is a difference of 50 lakh doses. Again both cannot be correct.
Another Mismatch - Govt Press Release Vs Govt Affidavit
Interestingly, in a press release issued on 3 May, the MoHF said that, "100% advance payment" of 'third purchase order' was released on 28 April 2021 to Serum Institute of India (SII) for 11 crore doses of COVISHIELD and to Bharat Biotech for 5 crore doses of COVAXIN.
But the norm is that advance payments are made only after the issuance of a purchase order.
Then how could the government make the payment for the third order on 28 April, as per the press release, when the date of the purchase order was 5 May, as per its own affidavit?
"The government seems to obfuscate the vaccination data – the number of doses ordered, when they were ordered, the supply schedule, when these orders will be fulfilled, etc. The data shared by the government is just not credible."Murali Neelakantan, Principal Lawyer Amicus
Clearly, the government is either misleading the Supreme Court through its affidavit or it is misleading the public via RTI responses.
Purchase Orders were Issued by HLL Lifecare, MoHF Under RTI
The mystery behind the second and the third orders could have been easily solved had the government shared the respective purchase orders as part of their reply to Commodore Batra's RTI query.
Commodore Batra asked for copies of the purchase orders of COVID vaccines. But he was denied these copies under Section 8 (1) (a) and (d) of RTI Act, 2005 by the MoHF saying, 'it would prejudicially affect the strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State'.
On further pursuance, the MoHF said, 'as the purchase orders are placed by HLL Lifecare (a government of India Enterprise under MoHF) with the manufacturers, the same are not available with (Health) Ministry.' It also said that the MoHF made requests or issued sanction orders to HLL Lifecare Ltd for procurement of vaccine doses.
But in the affidavit to SC the MoHF has mentioned the 'Purchase Order' and not the 'Sanction Order'. That clearly indicates that the Ministry did have a record of the Purchase Orders, and yet in its RTI reply the Ministry said that it did not have the details of purchase orders. Why?
Did Govt Administer more Vaccines Than it Procured in March-April
The Quint did a little bit of maths. If we go by the government's RTI reply, then there is glaring mismatch of 3.52 crore COVID doses between doses procured and administered.
The RTI reply said that the second order was placed on 11 April. Till then government had procured only 6.6 crore vaccine doses.
However, the MoHF press release issued on 10 April on vaccination status says, “The cumulative number of COVID19 vaccine doses administered in the country stands at 10,12,84,282 as per the provisional report.”
How did the government administer 10.12 crore doses by 10 April when they had procured only 6.6 crores by then?
Now if we go by the government affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on 26 June, the second order of 12 crore doses was placed on 12 March, a month earlier.
The question then arises - if 12 crore doses had been purchased as early as 12 March, why was the country facing vaccine shortages by early April, as COVID's second wave hit us all?
Commodore Batra filed an application with the First Appellate Authority (FAA) of the MoHF seeking a clarification on the discrepancy in the dates furnished under RTI and government's affidavit to the Supreme Court and also about the mismatch of 3.52 crore doses.
For me, as a transparency campaigner, it was important to seek clarity on the mismatch of vaccines data from MoHFW through the appeal process under RTI. However, the response that I received from the First Appellate Authority (FAA) on June 25, 2021 was surprising.Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd.), Transparency Activist
The FAA in response to Batra stood by the RTI response furnished to him earlier. It said, "The sanctions referred to by the CPIO in his reply... are financial sanctions issued by the covid vaccination cell."
The Quint wrote to MoHF and HLL Lifecare Ltd for comments. We will update the article with their response as and when we get it.
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