Days after more than a thousand new ambulances were launched in Andhra Pradesh amid much publicity as well as controversy, the state government has now served legal notices to a TDP spokesperson and two Telugu daily newspapers. The notices were served to TDP spokesperson Kommareddy Pattabhiram, and the Chief Editors of Eenadu and Andhrajyothi, for making and publishing defamatory statements against the government.
In a statement, the government said that the TDP had made statements against the 104, 108 emergency response service programs which were being implemented by the government in a “prestigious” way, while Eenadu and Andhrajyothi had published these statements.
State Public Prosecutor K Srinivas Reddy has served notices demanding an unconditional apology from all three parties, failing which they will have to face any consequent civil and criminal action by the government.
The new ambulances were launched on July 1, and the contract for 108 and 104 services were switched to a new service provider, Aurobindo Pharma Foundation Consortium. A few days before the launch, TDP spokesperson Pattabhiram had alleged several irregularities in the procurement of new vehicles and the premature change of the contracting firm.
Pattabhiram had alleged that the government had prematurely ended the contract with the previous firm BVG India Ltd, only to give it to Aurobindo at higher rates. He also alleged that the contract went to Aurobindo due to vested interests, as Aurobindo is co-founded by PV Ramprasad Reddy, the father of Vijayasai Reddy’s son-in-law. He insinuated that the MP was involved in helping Aurobindo secure the contract for both 108 and 104 services, and that around Rs 307 crore was swindled in the process.
The Department of Health and Family Welfare had issued clarifications over the allegations at the time. However, Pattabhiram said that the explanations were not satisfactory, and the TDP continued to repeat its claims.
The state government has claimed that the tender process was duly followed, and no rules were violated. It has also claimed that while the overall prices have gone up with the new contract, the new rates also include a hike in workers’ salaries.
The YSRCP government has received flak in the past for its stand on press freedom. Earlier in 2019, it was condemned over allegations of an “‘unwritten ban” on TV 5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi channels. While the Sakshi media house is owned by Chief Minister and YSRCP chief Jagan’s family, Eenadu, Andhrajyothi, ABN and TV5 are all considered to be soft on the TDP.
The YSRCP government has also issued a controversial order after coming to power, empowering department secretaries to sue media houses. Responding to the opposition to the order which called it a curb on press freedom, Chief Minister Jagan said that the government has ‘a democratic right to protect its image.’