New CEO Sachin Singh has brought in sweeping changes to the scam-tainted govt agency handling the jan aushadhi scheme.
New Delhi: An MBA-turned-Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer has been entrusted with reviving the government’s struggling scheme to supply affordable medicines. And he’s brought out the broom to sweep away the mess.
The Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PMBJP) — earlier known as the Jan Aushadhi Yojana — was launched to provide medicines at low prices through its own stores to the public, particularly to the poor and disadvantaged. But due to improper implementation and a scam-tainted handling agency, the scheme has fallen far short of the desired results.
So, when Sachin Singh, a 40-year-old 2011 batch IRS officer, was made CEO of the Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India (BPPI), the agency in question, he sent out a clear message — shape up or ship out.
Since taking over in May, Singh, a former area credit manager at ICICI Bank and associate vice-president at Indiabulls, has started conducting a series of written tests of BPPI employees in a room fitted with cameras.
“I have started the drill with marketing professionals. They represent us in front of other companies. The objective was to check their basic knowledge. To my surprise, a majority of these executives failed. The questions were as basic as writing the full form of WHO — World Health Organisation,” Singh told ThePrint.
Eight executives, one-third of the BPPI’s total strength of marketing professionals, have been fired, and “many more are on my list”, Singh said.
Overall, the staff count at BPPI has come down from 97 to 85 in three months.
“Some have been fired and some submitted their resignations. How can I work on such a noble mission without having a quality staff? This cleaning drive is a necessity,” said Singh, while showing a sheet full of spelling mistakes submitted by one of the bureau’s top managers.
The rot runs deep
The PMBJP often finds mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches — be it his Independence Day speech or his monthly radio programme, Mann Ki Baat. In June, he even interacted through video conference with beneficiaries of the scheme.
The scheme was originally launched as the Jan Aushadhi Yojana by Manmohan Singh’s UPA-II government. The Modi government then repackaged and relaunched the scheme in 2015, with direct involvement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
“In the run-up to next year’s Lok Sabha elections, it is one of the most important schemes for the NDA. The acronym for the scheme was finalised as ‘PM BJP’ after we received instructions from the PMO. The name itself shows how important the scheme is for the government and the PM himself,” said a senior official at the department of pharmaceuticals who was involved in the relaunch of the scheme.
However, the scheme and the BPPI faced charges of misappropriation from the government’s own internal audit committee, the Office of Chief Controller of Accounts, as first reported by ThePrint.
The audit report made 14 points against the BPPI for irregularities noticed between 2014-15 and 2016-17.
It noted that some medicines were being sold at prices higher than the market cost, defeating the entire purpose of the initiative. It also alleged severe mismanagement of funds, as well as something much more dangerous for the public — the BPPI accepting medicines that should be rejected as per its own rules.
Despite being tagged as one of the government’s flagship programmes, the BPPI was working out of a rented warehouse paying Rs 2 crore per month.
According to the auditor’s report, the BPPI had allegedly bought six times the medicines it was supposed to — at a cost of Rs 47 crore and without any storage facility.
The report also said the agency favoured private companies.
To compound troubles, the BPPI went through the resignations of three CEOs in as many years, with the last, Biplab Chatterjee, staying on as acting CEO for six months.
Winds of change
With the appointment of Singh, the government is hoping to fix the financial as well as leadership crises in the BPPI.
A trained chartered accountant and a law graduate, Singh was last posted as deputy commissioner, indirect taxes and customs, CGST in Gujarat’s revenue department.
“I have read about the financial misappropriations here and have understood the reasons. In Gujarat, I was looking after a revenue of Rs 18,000 crore. I assume catching the discrepancies within a small organisation will not be a massive task,” he said.
The BPPI’s revenue, which was Rs 140 crore last year, is expected to touch Rs 350 crore by March 2019.
With his experience of working at Indian Railways right after clearing the UPSC exam, Singh expects to solve the problem of inventory management soon. The BPPI is short-stocked in terms of certain medicines or sells expired products due to over procurement in terms of others.
The BPPI has finally opened India’s largest pharmacy warehouse, about 60,000 square feet of space in Bilaspur near Gurugram, Haryana, to tackle the problem of stock management. The warehouse is digitally connected and requires no manual entries.
“No one manages more stock than the railways. I am thankful that my first posting after clearing UPSC was at Indian Railways, which taught me enough about inventory management. We just trashed expired goods worth Rs 5 crore,” Singh said.
On the issue of favouring private firms, Singh added: “We have issued show-cause notices to 25 companies supplying drugs to us. More than six companies have been blacklisted.”
And as for the employees, Singh has introduced a professional, performance-based appraisal system. He has also instituted other good practices, such as implementing the Vishakha guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace, which the BPPI had been illegally operating without.
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