Explained: The latest battle between Naidu and Jagan govt over 108 ambulance services

TDP has alleged that YSRCP MP Vijayasai Reddy has procured the contract for his son-in-law’s firm by unfair means.
Andhra Pradesh CM Jagan and Leader of Opposition Chandrababu Naidu
Andhra Pradesh CM Jagan and Leader of Opposition Chandrababu Naidu
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Soon after the back-to-back arrests of prominent TDP leaders over allegations of corruption and illegal business practices among other issues , party chief Chandrababu Naidu and others have now turned the tables on the YSRCP. The TDP has alleged that Vijayasai Reddy, Rajya Sabha MP and Chief Minister Jagan’s close aide, has interfered with the contract of service providers for 108 emergency response services.

The TDP has alleged that the health and family welfare department has prematurely cancelled the existing contract with the firm BVG India Ltd, in order to give the contract to  Aurobindo Pharma Foundation Consortium at a higher price. TDP leaders have alleged that since Aurobindo is co-founded by  P V Ramprasad Reddy, the father of Vijaysai Reddy’s son-in-law, the MP was involved in helping the company secure the contract for both 108 and 104 services, starting from July 1. 

After the allegations surfaced a couple of days back, the Department of Health, Medical and Family Welfare issued a statement with clarifications, on Tuesday. The TDP, however, has called the clarifications unsatisfactory, and has further put forth several questions. 

Here is an explainer on the multiple issues on which allegations, clarifications, and counter allegations have been made.    

Premature cancellation of the existing contract with BVG 

After the previous contract for the ambulance services with GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI) ended in 2016, the contract was given to BVG during the TDP’s term. The contract was signed in December 2017, and was meant to last till December 12, 2020, TDP told the media. 

In October 2019, a government order (GO MS No. 111) was issued, directing the CEO of the Aarogyasri Health Care Trust, the body responsible for managing 108 (ambulance) and 104 (Mobile Medical Unit or MMU) services, to engage multiple service providers for both services, and also to identify and engage an agency to run a call center to coordinate these services. The TDP has questioned the need to call for engaging a new firm when there was more than a year left for BVG’s contract to end.   

According to the clarifying statement issued by the Health Department, an  expert committee tasked with assessing the health sector, had observed that more than 50 % of the existing 439 ambulances were in poor conduction, and that both 108 and 104 vehicles were poorly maintained. The statement also alleged that salary payment was often delayed by the firm, resulting in frequent strikes by employees. The statement claimed that 108 services had collapsed overall under BVG.  

TDP leaders have claimed that BVG has successfully worked with the Maharashtra government in the past, and accused the YSRCP government of driving out reputed companies from the state. TDP also claimed that the workers were being paid well during the TDP’s term. 

However, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) 104 workers union secretary Nageswara Rao tells TNM that the issue of delayed benefits and salaries has been going on since the contract was under GVK. “The governments repeatedly put the onus on the contractor, who gets away without paying the pending salaries and benefits. The government must take the responsibility of paying the workers as their primary employer and later collect the dues from the contractor,” he says. 

Judicial Preview 

The health department has claimed that the Request for Proposals (RFP) for 108 and 104 services was submitted for Judicial Preview in October 2019, and the comments received from the public were considered and incorporated in November.  

The TDP has alleged that the changes made to the RFP were designed to accommodate Aurobindo Pharma and make the firm eligible for the contract, referring to the findings of the judicial preview. 

Revised rates for 108 services 

According to the health department’s statement, the monthly service charge per vehicle under BVG was Rs 1.43 lakh per vehicle. Under Aurobindo, the charge for the 432 new vehicles is Rs 1.78 lakh per vehicle, and for the 336 existing vehicles, the charge is Rs 2.21 lakh per vehicle.  

The health department has claimed that the increase in the charges is due to increase in staff salaries for the staff, maintenance of vehicles and increased fuel price. 

Yet, the TDP has blamed the YSRCP government for giving the contract at increased rates, stating that in a reverse auction, the contract should’ve gone to a bidder quoting even lower charges than BVG. 

Purchase of vehicles 

In September 2019, a government order (GO MS No. 105) was issued, saying the government planned to procure 432 new ambulances for 108 services. In addition to the existing 341 fit ambulances procured after 2016 (under the TDP government), the fleet would be expanded to a total of 773 ambulances to reduce response time, the order said. The 432 new ambulances would be purchased through a “financing option”, it said, so that the burden on the state exchequer is lowered.  

In October, the government issued another order (GO MS No. 117), directing the Andhra Pradesh Medical Services & Infrastructure Development Corporation (APMSIDC) to procure vehicles for under “outright purchase model.” In December, the government issued orders permitting the APMSIDC to purchase 412  ambulances towards 108 services, at a quoted price of Rs 71,48,29,878, from Force Motors Ltd.

The TDP has questioned why the government decided to opt for outright purchase, when they had earlier mentioned concerns of financial burden. In the clarification statement, the health department said that  during a pre-bid meeting, “the bidders expressed their non willingness in bidding due to financing model,” because of which the government switched to the outright purchase model. Due to unsatisfactory response to the call for tenders, the government eventually procured the vehicles from the GeM (Government e Marketplace) portal, the statement said. 

Challenging this response, TDP leader Pattabhiram said that if bidders were unwilling to adopt the financing model, it reflects poorly on the YSRCP government’s credibility. 

Moreover, the health department’s statement says that the expert committee found more than 50% of the 439 existing ambulances to be in poor condition. However, in its order to purchase 432 new ambulances, the government mentions that 341 existing ambulances were in fit condition.

Management of 108 and 104 services by Aarogyasri trust

The TDP has also questioned the YSRCP government’s move to bring the 108 and 104 services under the purview of the CEO of the Aarogyasri Healthcare Trust, while it was earlier overseen by the office of the Director of Health & Family Welfare.

The health department in its response has simply said that the Aarogyasri Healthcare Trust “has been entrusted with overall supervision and monitoring of 108 and 104 services for dedicated focus on 108 and 104 services.”

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