COVID-19 in Andamans: Lieutenant-Governor seeks more emergency spending powers

Union Finance Ministry says talk to Home Ministry; islands’ administration had flagged acute shortage and surging prices of COVID-19 supplies

Following a plea from the Andaman and Nicobar islands’ administration to relax the ₹10-crore limit on the Lieutenant Governor’s power to authorise direct emergency purchases amid an acute shortage of essential COVID-19 supplies, the Union Finance Ministry has asked the Port Blair top brass to take up the issue with the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Finance Ministry has, however, granted a one-month relaxation to the islands’ administration from several rules pertaining to procurement in the General Financial Rules, stating that procurement delays amid an unprecedented national health emergency would result in loss of lives of citizens.

Last Thursday, the Chief Secretary of the Andaman & Nicobar Administration had written to the Centre about ‘an acute shortage of essential COVID-19-related supplies, particularly of medical oxygen’. He had said they are ‘facing tremendous challenges in procuring supplies’ due to the islands’ unique geographical location.

Given these challenges and ‘the obvious surge in prices’ of essential COVID-19-related supplies, the administration had sought flexibility in following the General Financial Rules (GFR) for at least one month, including dropping the requirement to ensure ‘reasonability’ of prices. The Centre was urged to permit procurement from different sources at different rates through different procurement methods.

The Chief Secretary had also sought a relaxation in the powers for direct emergency purchases and negotiated contracts as per the powers delegated to the Lieutenant Governor, from the current limit of ₹10 crore.

In a missive to the islands’ top brass on Friday, the Department of Expenditure in the Finance Ministry said: “With regard to the request to relax the powers for direct emergency purchase/negotiated contract of the Hon’ble Lt. Governor from the current limit of ₹10 crore, the Andaman & Nicobar Administration is requested to place this before the Competent Authority in MHA for consideration.”

The UT administration’s demands for relaxing the applicability of the financial rules were broadly accepted, in line with a similar relaxation granted on April 24 for COVID-19 procurements to be undertaken by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Department of Pharmaceuticals and the Department of Defence Research and Development.

“Being a national health emergency of unprecedented and historic scale, delays in procurement will result in loss of lives of citizens. Hence there is a paramount public interest in ensuring that the necessary supplies are procured in the fastest possible manner and financial procedures have to adapt accordingly,” noted the office memorandum from the Finance Ministry.

“Considering the unique geography of the A&N Islands and also that medical supplies have to be made available on all inhabited islands in quick times, it is acknowledged that the UT administration must be finding it very challenging to make procurement and deliver it to the place where such supplies would be needed. The difficult for the Union Territory’s administration to make such procurement in terms of price, availability and timely delivery has also been considered,” it added.


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