PM CARES paying Rs four lakhs to buy one ventilator: Who is making money?

Local and vocal? While Railways, IIT Roorkee and other institutions are offering ventilators costing Rs 10,000 to Rs one lakh, why are PM CARES funds being used to buy them at Rs four lakh each?

Photo Courtesy: social media
Photo Courtesy: social media

NR Mohanty

The union government announced on Wednesday night that it was releasing Rs 2,000 crore from PM CARES Fund to purchase 50,000 Made-in-India ventilators.

Basic arithmetic would tell us that, by the government's own reckoning, each India-Made ventilator would cost Rs 4 lakh. Is somebody making big money here?

When the Prime Minister announced the first three-week lockdown from March 25, we were told that we would use the time to ramp up our health infrastructure. As the European and the US experience showed, the ventilator ICUs were of crucial importance for critical COVID patients. A quick tabulation told us that we had about 40,000 ventilators, both public and private hospitals included, but many of the ventilators in the government hospitals were dysfunctional.

We were also given to understand that as countries like UK and USA were struggling to procure ventilators from different parts of the world -- the New York City itself had placed a purchase order for 30,000 ventilators -- it would be difficult for our country to source them from abroad.

Moreover, and that is crucial here, an imported ventilator would cost, we were told, Rs 4 to 5 lakh each. Our Prime Minister, Health Minister and other leaders said with great deal of pride that we have the scientific and technological competence to produce ventilators of our own.

What did we get to hear in the next few weeks? Several institutions came forward to say that they have developed digital ventilators, with critical imported parts, that would cost about Rs 1.50 lakh each.

Another step forward: IIT Roorkee announced in April that it had developed a completely indigenous ventilator, with full functionality, at a cost of Rs 25,000 apiece.

That is not all. The behemoth Indian Railways announced last month that it has developed a low-cost ventilator at its Kapurthala Rail Coach Factory that would cost barely Rs 10,000 and made it known that it had sought ICMR's permission to mass-produce it.

Even that is not the end of the story.

Three weeks ago, Bangalore-based Dynamatic Technologies, an engineering product manufacturing company, told us that it has developed a disposable ventilator prototype which would work without electricity and which would barely cost Rs 2,500. Our government's blue-eyed civil servant, Amitabh Kant, enthusiastically endorsed this product.

The key question is: if we have quality products lined up by our frontline government organisations at affordable prices (from Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000), why has the government allocated Rs 4 lakh per piece to buy 50,000 ventilators?

At 1600 per cent higher cost than what has been quoted by the IIT Roorkee and at 4000 % higher cost compared to what Indian Railways has offered?

Is someone making big money somewhere?

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Published: 15 May 2020, 11:24 AM