PPE Kit Scam: Assam CM's Wife Files Rs 100-Cr Defamation Suit Against AAP's Sisodia

The move comes after Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had threatened Sisodia on Twitter after the latter accused him of corruption in the procurement of PPE kits in 2020.

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New Delhi: Weeks after Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma issued a threat to Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia on Twitter, his wife, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma reportedly filed a Rs 100-crore civil defamation case against the top Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader at a local court in Guwahati.

On June 4, chief minister Sarma had taken to Twitter to deny Sisodia’s allegations of corruption against the former and his wife, saying that he would see the AAP leader soon in Guwahati and threatening him with a criminal defamation suit.

Reports in the local media quoted Padmadhar Nayak, Bhuyan Sarma’s lawyer, as telling mediapersons that the case has been filed at the court of the civil judge, Kamrup (Metro) and is expected to be listed on Wednesday, June 22, after which “they will move further” on the matter. 

On June 4, Sisodia, at a press conference in New Delhi, accused Sarma of awarding COVID-19-related emergency procurement contracts for personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to his wife’s firm and his son’s business partners “at exorbitant rates” in 2020.

While Sisodia said that there was nothing unusual about the health department (headed by Sarma at the time) assigning urgent work orders to a supplier during the emergency, he highlighted that the prices were fixed at a much higher rate for these firms, related to the minister, even though the state health ministry could have procured PPE kits at a lower cost from any other supplier at that time, thus alleging a scam.

“It is a major scam by the chief minister of Assam and his close associates. It is a solid corruption case and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is after Satyendra Jain (an AAP leader and Delhi health minister) who is working hard to provide quality healthcare to the residents of Delhi,” Sisodia said.

The ED arrested Jain on May 30 in a money laundering case and he is currently in judicial custody.  

Sisodia’s allegations against Sarma drew from a series of investigative reports jointly run by The Wire and Guwahati-based news site The Cross Current earlier in June.

Also read: Himanta Biswa Sarma Bragged About Buying PPE Kits From China. But An RTI Reply Says His Govt Never Did

The reports, based on Right to Information (RTI) replies from the state health department, had shown that Sarma’s wife’s company, JCB Industries, was granted an urgent work order to supply PPE kits at the rate of Rs 990 each by the health department when it was headed by Sarma.

Though the state chapter of the National Health Mission (NHM) – which had carried out all pandemic related procurements – had told The Cross Current, through an RTI reply, that the urgency to procure the kits was triggered by the sudden national lockdown announced by the Prime Minister, the ‘urgent’ supply orders to Sarma’s wife’s firm and his son’s business partner’s firm were issued prior to the lockdown being declared. 

Moreover, JCB Industries supplied only a fraction of what it set to supply to the health department as per that ‘urgent supply order’. That supply was later turned into a corporate-social responsibility (CSR) activity of the minister’s wife’s firm.

What’s more, the firm which had bagged the PPE kit order from the health ministry had no prior experience of supplying medical equipment or gear. 

The Wire and The Cross Current’s series of investigative reports, based on government orders and procured through RTI applications over a protracted period of six months, can be read at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.