ISLAMABAD: The provincial government of Sindh has completely denied that it released Rs8 billion for purchase and distribution of ration bags among the people worst affected by the economic downturn in the wake of coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
Sindh government has submitted a comprehensive report in the Supreme Court, whose five-judge larger bench – headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed – last week took up a suo motu case to review the federal and provincial governments’ measures to counter the contagious disease.
The report said fake news about release of fund was a nefarious attempt to malign the PPP led provincial government and to undermine its actions to control the spread of the deadly virus, provide medical care to the affected persons and to mitigate the effects of lockdown.
The apex court in its last order observed that there were reports that Sindh government spent Rs8 billion on purchase and distribution of ration bags in the province. The court had sought a report from the province about mechanism of procurement of ration and its distribution among the needy people.
The report said the government has so far released two financial tranches for procurement and distribution of ration bags – one of Rs580 million released on March 26 and the other of Rs500 million released on April 6. This makes the total amount released to be Rs1.080 billion.
"The so-called information of Rs8 billion released for the said purpose is denied as being a nefarious attempt to malign the government of Sindh and to undermine its actions," it said.
The report said Sindh’s Services, General Administration and Coordination Department vide its letter dated March 16 informed all the divisional commissioners that they have been delegated the powers to declare emergency under Rule 16 (b) (viii) of Sindh Public Procurement Rules 2010.
"Accordingly, the procurement of ration bags was made by all the deputy commissioners under the said legal provision from various vendors including utility stores wherever possible. The reports of the deputy commissioners are available and will be submitted if the Hon’ble Court so pleases to desire. As for the price, it has remained within Rs2,000/- per ration bag inclusive of taxes and transportation"
Ehsaas Emergency Cash Payments
The Sindh government told the SC that the federal government has launched a massive programme of cash payments to the poor and needy people, who have been affected by the continued lockdown.
"The report generated by ‘Ehsaas Kifaalat’ through its MIS-database for the entire country also showing the status of cash disbursements to the people of Sindh is annexed hereafter.
“It may be seen that a total of 1,664,231 needy people of the province of Sindh will benefit from the said programme. As of 15.04.2020, a total of 1,175,632 people belonging to the province of Sindh have received the cash disbursements, totaling to Rs14,239,000,000," said the report.
Justification of sealing of 11 union councils
The report also tried to address the apex court’s concerns over sealing of 11 union councils (UCs) in Karachi and said the first case of coronavirus was reported in Karachi, East on Feb 26. It was followed by an increasing number of cases until the provincial government imposed a lockdown on March 23.
Till March 31, some 86 cases were reported in the currently sealed UCs of the district. These people were infected mostly through contact with travelers returning to Pakistan and the pilgrims who had visited holy sites in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
However, this number jumped to 234 when the government issued the executive order to seal 11 UCs on April 12. In this scenario, the report said, it was imperative to initiate much stronger and more focused lockdown across these 11 UCs which currently are the hotspots in District East Karachi.
It said: “The much tougher decision of sealing these UCs is just to contain the further spread of the deadly virus to other residents of the locality and to initiate a robust testing and screening mechanism by keeping the infected in home quarantine. Such a complete lockdown will not only safeguard many precious lives but limit the rapid spread of this virus which happens exponentially."
The report said social distancing remains the mainstay of keeping the pandemic from further transmission and thus a lockdown was implemented by the government throughout province.
However, the masses did not comply in letter and spirit. Therefore, the district east remained the most affected area in the entire Karachi, with 100 cases reported in the first 14 days of April 2020 only in the said UCs which were sealed by district administration.
Reported deaths in the UCs constitute 80% of the total reported deaths in the district, while 5 critical patients are being mechanically ventilated in various hospitals throughout Karachi.
It said the first contacts are individuals who had close contact with the positive COVID-19 patient. Unfortunately, the data shows a figure of 1,522 reported first contacts of 186 positive cases in the UCs.
Screening in these UCs was conducted by home-based sampling – samples taken by Rapid Response Teams of Health Department at the residences of the first contact persons – or sentinel site-based sampling – samples taken for test by the laboratory staff of either Ojha Campus of Dow University of Health Sciences or Aga Khan University at the respective laboratories.
"Till date 2,660 COVID-19 PCR testing has been done on the sentinel sites from February 26, of which 240 residents of district east are found to be positive (9% percentage tested). Out of 10 deaths, 8 deaths are reported in these 11 UCs," the report added.