Centre ‘conspicuously silent’ in controversial Covaxin deal with Brazil, says Congress

Bharat Biotech may be a private entity but public funding was diverted for Covaxin’s development, says party spokesperson

Raising Bharat Biotech’s controversial $320 million dollar deal to supply 20 million doses of Covaxin to Brazil, the Congress party on Friday asked why the Narendra Modi government was “conspicuously silent” on the serious allegations concerning the deal.

The Congress argued that since Covaxin was developed along with the Indian Council for Medical Research, “It is important for us to raise these questions because Bharat Biotech may be a private entity but public funding was diverted for the development of this vaccine, tax payers money was put into this, which is why we have a right to question,” Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate told reporters at a press meet.

On Wednesday, the Brazilian Health Ministry suspended a contract to supply 20 million doses of Covaxin over allegations of the vaccine’s price being increased from $1.34 to $15 per dose by the Indian manufacturer.

Though Bharat Biotech denied any wrongdoing, the Congress claimed that facts in the public domain merit an investigation into serious fraud, and asked how a contract to export vaccines be carried out when the Centre had placed a blanket ban on exports.

Ms. Shrinate claimed that Brazil’s Opposition parties had also raised the issue of offshore payments demanded by Madison Biotech, a Singapore-based company and a partner of Bharat Biotech.

“The allegations also are that a $45 million offshore payment was asked by Madison Biotech and it lies at the centre of the controversy. Why was this ‘partner’ of Bharat Biotech asking for this sort of a money? It is illegal because it is not a part of the contract signed between Bharat Biotech, Precisa Medicamentos [the Brazilian company that signed the contract with Bharat Biotech], and the Brazilian government,” she said.

“There are obvious, serious issues of corporate governance if these allegations are to be believed. We want to know — what is the relationship between Bharat Biotech and Madison Biotech? Is it an exporting arm, a logistics firm, an entity of family owned venture? We would like to know that…It is now established that the founders of Bharat Biotech are also the co-founders of Madison Biotech,” Ms. Shrinate added.

Ms. Shrinate also targeted Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and Ministers, including Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, for behaving like trolls in response to former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s tweet that “July is here but vaccines are not”.

Asked to respond to the comments from the BJP leaders on Mr. Gandhi, Ms. Shrinate said, “Please ask all these Ministers who tweet from the air conditioned chambers, acting like petty two rupee trolls, to go to rural India, smaller towns, and see how bad the vaccination [programme] is.”

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