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COVID-19 foreign aid to India: Questions rise on transparency

BusinessToday.In     May 4, 2021

As India grapples with the ravaging second coronavirus wave, countries near and far have jumped in to help with medical aid. However, as things stand now, it is unclear which ministry or agency is handling and distributing the foreign aid. Questions have now arisen about the transparency in dealing with coronavirus relief material pouring in from overseas.

Multiple news networks, including India Today TV sought to gather information about the distribution of the aid arriving in India but have not made much headway. Some have pointed to the Ministry of Health and said that it is responsible for the distribution, senior officials of the ministry have said that it is the Ministry of External Affairs that's responsible for the distribution.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE FOREIGN AID?

An officer told India Today TV that all aid coming to the Government of India from private and state bodies abroad are being received by the Indian Red Cross. The consignments are then handed over to the MEA and then the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Home Affairs deal with domestic distribution. An empowered group is headed by the Transport Secretary for coordination but when asked no ministry was able to clarify any details.

Health ministry officials in charge of distributing these materials refused to comment. As per sources, the COVID-19 task force will dispatch oxygen concentrators that are part of the government procurement by May 5. The government is also awaiting a large supply order under PM-Cares fund. The government is still to reveal details of which state is set to receive how many oxygen concentrators.

A US Embassy spokesperson said that USAID is transferring ownership of the provided materials to the government through the Indian Red Cross organisation. "We refer you to the Government of India for information about the deployment and use of these materials subsequent to their transfer," said the spokesperson.

However, the Finance Ministry has already refuted reports of 3,000 oxygen concentrators being held up at customs. "We have again checked with our field formations and there is no such consignment lying with the customs. However, since a photograph has also been put on Twitter, if anybody has information as to where it is lying, the same may be informed to us and we will take immediate action," said the statement.

Sources told India Today TV that a high level inter-ministerial group has been formed that has established a procedure for immediate clearance of such foreign aid.

US RAISES QUESTIONS

Last week during a state department briefing, a reporter sought transparency regarding US taxpayers' money being used to aid India. "We are sending these planeloads of material to India. But our journalist in Delhi is reporting that even after trying for two days, he's been unable to find out who is taking away the oxygen concentrators, medicines, or how much is arriving," asked the reporter. The journalist said that there's no website or transparency system where people can apply to get this and asked if there's anything being done to check how the aid that's been funded by taxpayers' money being distributed.

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter said, "As far as a specific website when it comes to tracking, we have nothing to read out or announce at this time. But rest assured that the United States is committed to making sure that our partners in India are taken care of in this crisis." She further said that the US is committed to help India and that help has been sent including an array of supplies like oxygen cylinders, regulators, pulse oximeters, and N95 masks.

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