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Plasma deal : What was the big hurry for ?


Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, May 6:

The decision to sell surplus blood plasma units in blood banks across Odisha to Reliance Life Sciences at a time when the model code of conduct for the twin elections in the state was in force, has raised doubts about a possible nexus between senior government officials and the private company.

Bags containing blood plasma
Bags containing blood plasma

Sources said Reliance Life Sciences had been trying to strike a deal with blood banks in the state to buy blood plasma at throwaway prices for the last eight years but had failed despite efforts by some officials in the Health department to get it through.

The promulgation of model code of conduct by the Election Commission for the twin elections in the state came as a boon in disguise for the company as well as some top officials of the Health department to quietly ink the deal, sources said.

Sources said it appears that they were waiting for an opportune moment when the deal could be struck without taking the Health minister into confidence. The manner in which some top officials of the Health department decided to sell blood plasma to Reliance Life Sciences saying it was in consonance with the advisory/ directive issued by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) leaves room for suspicion.

These government officials however continue to claim that since NACO has advised to sell the surplus blood plasma to private companies, it was perfectly alright to sell it to Reliance Life Sciences which had approached them.

The decision, sources say, was taken in a meeting in a surreptitious manner overnight. Citing model code of conduct, which was in force, no tender was issued to attract the highest bidder. The State Blood Transfusion Council (SBTC) rushed through an order for the deal. Even first phase sales of blood plasma to the company have been concluded even before the model code could be lifted.

Now it’s being said that Reliance Life Sciences will be procuring blood plasma for a period of two months without tender and that the tender process will be held after the model code of conduct is lifted completely and the highest bidder will be eligible for the procurement.

However, Reliance Life Sciences has the opportunity to make the most of it by procuring as much plasma as possible during this two month period the sources said, adding, it is currently buying blood plasma at Rs 1000 a litre from blood banks.

Reliance Life Sciences manufactures several medicines out of the blood plasma it procures from blood banks. These medicines are exorbitantly priced at Rs 5000 and above for just one ml. The company profits in crores out of the blood plasma it procures for a paltry Rs 1000 a litre.

A little share of the huge profits earned by the company from selling plasma derivatives could have been offered as kickback, the sources alleged.

The sources said the hush-hush manner in which the deal has been struck calls for a probe.

Sources in the Health department said despite maintaining a brave front over the controversy, senior officials are unnerved and at a loss to decide what to say in the report called for by the Health minister in this matter.