Guwahati: At a time when the Centre's emphasis has turned towards keeping the morale high amid the COVID-19 catastrophe, the Assam state government has sought to dispel worries by gifting a radio set to each COVID-19 patient in the state.
Providing a radio seems to be a consensus decision that was taken by the core committee of the COVID-19 in Assam, comprising Biswa Sarma, junior Minister Pijush Hazarika, as well as Principal Secretary Samir Sinha. This decision was taken on July 2 while discussing a slew of measures that can be taken to uplift the spirits of those undergoing treatment.
Indeed, the health personnel at the COVID Care Centers have been seen trying to take care of the patients at the COVID-19 care centers and singing and dancing. Bihu has been a staple at some of the centers in the state and abundant videos can be found on the internet of people grooving to the infectious beats of the folk tunes.
However, the controversy started brewing when several self-appointed watchdogs pointed out that the radio sets that are being arranged for the patients would likely be a waste of the exchequer's money -- especially at a time when unemployment is rampant. Indeed, once the coronavirus-induced lockdown kicked in, thousands across the country left their jobs. Migrant workers, especially, were deprived of a source of income and thousands upon thousands trudged homewards in despair. Many were to meet with grisly deaths on their homewards journey.
Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, has tried to dispel these misgivings with a clarification on Twitter. Sarma, in a recent tweet, pointed out "provide and procure are two different words". He further added that not a single set given to the patients was procured or purchased. This, again, posits some rather fascinating questions.
The cumulative total of coronavirus positive patients in the state is 38,407. Out of these, 9,230 cases are active cases. Again, the Government's decision to provide radios to patients was taken on July 2 – a time when the virus curve in Assam was at its absolute peak.
Had the Government forecasted that the number of COVID-19 patients would rise so rapidly across the state and were the sets "procured" in accordance? Secondly, who was commissioned to procure these sets, and at what cost? Were they rented out?