Drug godown fires destroyed key evidence in 'COVID corruption', suspect officials

The authorities suspect that medical equipment and products which are crucial pieces of evidence in the case have been destroyed in the fires. Photo: Manorama

Thiruvananthapuram: Mystery shrouds the two incidents of fire at the drug warehouses of the Kerala Medical Services Corporation Limited (KMSCL) occurring at a time when the investigation into allegations of corruption involving crores of rupees during the COVID crisis was nearing the last stage.

Authorities suspect that medical equipment and products which are crucial pieces of evidence in the case may have been destroyed in the fires.

A section of officials in the health department said sabotage cannot be ruled out in the fire accidents since the authorities of the KMSCL themselves had earlier destroyed over 6,000 computer files pertaining to the purchase of medicines during the COVID-19 period.

The government has not come forward with any clarification either to clear the air despite the loss of crores of rupees in the fires at the drug depots in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam, and the death of a member of the Fire and Rescue Services while attempting to douse the blaze.

The health department washed its hands of the entire issue by merely stating that a security audit would be conducted in the drug warehouses.

It is estimated that there was a loss of Rs 10 crore in the fire at the Kollam depot and Rs 1.22 crore in the incident in Thiruvananthapuram. Despite this, the investigation has been entrusted to the local police and the government is not prepared to conduct a high level inquiry.

The mysteries
•Medicines including anti-rabies vaccine worth Rs 2.5 crore were bought additionally after all the required medicines had been purchased by the KMSCL last year.

It was a political appointee at the higher level who issued the order to carry out this transaction. When a controversy arose, the entire quantity of medicines was shifted to the godown at Uliyakovil in Kollam. These medicines were among the things that caught fire.

•Gloves and PPE kits that were bought at exorbitant rates during the COVID period and stored in the same depot were also destroyed in the fire. These pieces of evidence were destroyed even as the hearing in the Lok Ayukta case against the accused persons, including the former Health Minister K K Shylaja, is scheduled to begin on June 15.

•Official circles, including the KMSCL, had allegedly launched a misinformation campaign suggesting that the fire at the Kollam depot had occurred due to lightning. When the Fire and Rescue Services ruled out that possibility, they changed their version and said bleaching powder was the cause of the fire. It is also suspected that a fire that started at the low quality cotton that was abandoned in the godown before the COVID crisis spread to the bleaching powder. But there is no investigation to find out the cause of the fire.

•The officials of the KMSCL initially said that the fire at the Menamkulam godown in Thiruvananthapuram had occurred in the building that stored chemical products intended for supply to hospitals. Witnesses have stated that there was an earth-shaking explosion during the fire. It is not clear if there would be a blast if bleaching powder catches fire. But still, there is no investigation.

•There is also no answer to the question how expired drugs came to be stored in the warehouse which was meant to store only chemical products. It is suspected that expired drugs dating from 2014 were stored in the depot on a large scale on the directive of the general manager of the KMSCL.

•The bleaching powder bought during the COVID period and stored at the Thiruvananthapuram godown caught fire when there are allegations of irregularities behind the changes made in the conditions and quality standards of bleaching powder.

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.