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ESIC: CAG frowns upon Kharge’s misplaced priorities

At a time when sub standard medicines were being circulated besides “worrying health facilities” at cash rich Employees’ State Insurance Corporation’s (ESIC) hospitals, former Union Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge was busy deciding his office décor in an attempt to make it look swanky.

The startling revelation came to light during the CAG audit report, which not only highlights several “irregularities” in the functioning of ESIC but also mentions the “unwanted” expenses made by the minister, who is the present Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, just for his so-called comfort.

Not the least, in a shameful act of flexing his power, it was found that despite having its own dedicated funds for such works, the Labour Ministry has spent ESIC’s money for the “beautification”.

“The Minister of Labour and Employment is ex-officio Chairman of the ESIC, however, the office of the minister in Shram Shakti Bhawan does not constitute an exclusive office building of the ESIC. Besides, the ministry has its own budget for repair and maintenance of the minister’s office, which falls under the jurisdiction of CPWD. However, it was found that ESIC had irregularly incurred an expenditure of Rs 2.29 crore for the renovation work,” CAG report reads.

While defending the expenses, the ministry claimed that the renovation work was executed to facilitate access and information with regard to functioning of ESIC through IT rollout.

“However, the reply was not relevant as items executed were other than IT rollout and ESIC funds cannot be put to use in a building that is not in the exclusive possession of ESIC. Also, all investments for IT rollout project were to be incurred by system integrator (M/s Wipro) as per Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) model of the agreement,” says CAG report.

It was found that ESIC had initiated the process for renovating the minister’s office on a specific directive from the Secretary. Based on initial estimates submitted by M/s Design Associates, the Director General, ESIC sanctioned an amount of Rs 42.87 lakh in 2010 for the renovation work which was awarded to Hindustan Steelworks Construction Ltd. (HSCL) with the condition to complete the work within 15 days during the period of June 9 to June 24, 2010. “But surprisingly the agreement with M/s Design Associates was made on October 26, 2010,” the report says.

Later, the ministry went ahead with ‘additional modification’ (again with ESIC funds), which led to cost escalation of Rs 2.29 crore, including construction of waiting lounges — I and II. On the other hand, when the minister was busy in making lounges, CAG report pointed out four to five cases where patients (mothers) were seen lying in a single bed (due lack of adequate facilities) with their newborn babies.

On the context of sub-standard medicines, the national auditor observed: “In 76 cases in Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala and West Bengal.
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