In 2020, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) purchased disinfectants and several spraying machines for outdoor fumigation worth more than one crore rupees, reveals an RTI.
The purchase included more than 70,000 litres of ECHO Quaternary Ammonium Compound and Sodium Hypochlorite disinfectant at a cost of ₹74,00,000 as per the SMC’s response to the RTI.
The price paid for an additional 25,000 litres of Hydrogen peroxide and Silver Nitrate Solution was not disclosed by the SMC, merely stating “company rate” or “Rate assessment committee”.
The corporation made eight separate purchases of ECHO Quaternary Ammonium Compound at a cost of ₹1,530 (without GST) per litre from Kashmir Pest Control Services while one consignment of Sodium Hypochlorite was purchased at ₹74 per litre from Telenor Traders Srinagar. Two purchases of Hydrogen Peroxide and Silver Nitrate solution were made from The Netsurfer Srinagar, whose rate was not disclosed in the RTI reply.
The massive haul of chemical disinfectants were purchased from three different suppliers. In addition, fumigation equipment worth lakhs was also procured to spray these chemicals against scientific advice.
While the SMC disclosed that it purchased three units of Trolley Mounted Anti smoke Gun Machine for ₹28.11 lakh, the price of additional equipment, numbering more than a hundred, was withheld.
The World Health Organisation had in May 2020 cautioned against fumigation of outdoor spaces and said it was not recommended to deal with the COVID19 virus.
“In outdoor spaces, large-scale spraying or fumigation in areas such as streets or open market places for the COVID-19 virus or other pathogens is not recommended,” the WHO had said. “Streets and sidewalks are not considered as routes of infection for COVID-19. Spraying disinfectants, even outdoors, can be noxious for people’s health and cause eye, respiratory or skin irritation or damage.”
However, Athar Aamir Khan SMC Commissioner said, “Not a single penny was spent on the purchase of machinery in the second wave of COVID19.”
Just one month
The RTI was filed by two law students Tajamul Islam and Abid Mushtaq on 16 April 2021. The SMC responded on 29 June 2021, well after the stipulated time under the Right To Information Act of 2005.
The duo had also sought purchase expenditure on Covid-19 mitigation efforts from March 2020 till date but the SMC has only provided details of procurement in the period between March and 15 May 2020.
They had also sought copies of local dailies in which notices inviting tenders were published and details of the amount spent in the open market for purchasing of different items. No information was given.
“Officials of SMC are preferring secrecy over disclosure of information. The RTI is no longer sacred to check transparency and officials of SMC are no longer taking,” Tajamul Islam told The Kashmir Walla.
The SMC’s Purchase and Procurement Officer Hilal Ahmad Shah didn’t divulge further information, pleading that he was recently appointed to the post. He told The Kashmir Walla that the fumigation “was recommended by a team of doctors then.”
Continued unscientific measures
Even as disinfection of outdoor surfaces has been discouraged by the global medical community and the WHO, the practice is being continued across Kashmir, inflicting an undisclosed cost on state exchequer.
Mohammad Sultan Khuroo, head of the J-K administration’s apex committee on Covid-19 control, said that the spraying of disinfectants was no longer scientifically recommended.
“SARS-CoV 2 [Covid-19 pathogen] has a fat lining outside and nothing other than [individual use of] sanitisers with more than 70 percent alcohol concentration and detergents can dissolve and disintegrate the virus,” said Khuroo. “Medical science has not established the efficiency of any other chemical against the virus till date.”
Salim Khan, Head of Department of Social and Preventive Medicines at Government Medical College Srinagar, said that the “purchase and use of disinfectants is a waste.”