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Fast-Track Procurement for COVID-19

Introduction

Invest India has recently launched the Business Immunity Platform to facilitate businesses combat the impact of COVID-19. This platform not only provides all the real-time updates on the Government’s efforts to safeguard against the Coronavirus, but also helps in connecting suppliers of essential commodities to prospective buyers. Currently, the demand for medical devices and equipment such as masks, sanitizers, ventilators, etc. is expected to rise. Immediate access to these commodities is essential in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. 

However, the Government procurement is a tedious process and requires considerable amount of time and effort to procure the right product at the best price. Following the tendering mechanism may cause delays in procuring essential commodities. Let us explore how the Government can, under certain situations, expedite the procurement processes.

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GeM

The Government e Marketplace (GeM) has launched the COVID-19 platform to list all the suppliers and their products that can be used to curb the Corona outbreak. With more than 9500 suppliers and more than 7000 products on the COVID-19 platform, GeM has also eased registrations for manufacturers and resellers to register and list their products on the platform. Anticipating the current demand for medical devices and equipment such as hand sanitizers, thermometers, surgical gloves, etc. the GeM team has fast-tracked the registration process for such sellers.

The usual bidding time for procuring products and services > INR 5 lakhs was 2 weeks. GeM has reduced the bidding time to just 3 days to ensure faster bidding and procurement of goods! The delivery period has also been reduced to just 2 days to help supply essential commodities in critical situations. For COVID-19 Response Project, involving procurement of items such as masks, gloves, disinfectants, reagents, etc., the World Bank has enhanced threshold for use of GeM from US$ 100,000 to US$ 1 Million.

Government departments and hospitals can procure these products from the platform and ensure appropriate stock.

Provisions for Swift Procurement (Under Special Conditions Only)

Per the General Financial Rules 2017 and Manual for Procurement of Goods 2017, special rules of procurement may be adopted in emergency situations. Emergency can be of the nature of a natural disaster, or situations where timely completion of the assignment is of utmost importance. 

The Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 also provides certain powers to the Central and State Governments to take certain measures, as deemed necessary, to prevent the outbreak of the disease.

  1. Section 8.2, Manual for Procurement of Goods 2017, (Handling Procurement in urgencies/Emergencies and Disaster Management) – There are sufficient fast track procurement modalities to tackle procurements in urgent/emergent and Disaster Management situations. Enhanced delegations of procurement powers in SoP may be considered to handle such situations. Use of following modes of procurements may be utilised in order of speed (under Disaster Management situations, threshold limits of modes of procurement may be increased for higher level of officers, with the sanction of Secretary of the Department):
    • Direct Procurement Without Quotation 
    • Direct Procurement by Purchase Committee
    • SLTE/Limited/Single Tender Enquiry, with reduced time for submission of Bids

To speed up procurement, advance cash may be drawn for direct procurement modes and made available to the Committees/officer, with accounts and vouchers to be submitted after purchase

  1. Section 4.10 Manual for Procurement of Goods 2017 (Direct Procurement by Purchase Committee) –  In case of emergency procurement, facility of withdrawing requisite advance cash amount and its subsequent accounting may also be considered
  2. Rule 166  of the General Financial Rules 2017 (Single Tender Enquiry) –  Procurement from a single source may be resorted to in the following circumstances :
    • It is in the knowledge of the user department that only a particular firm is the manufacturer of the required goods 
    • In a case of emergency, the required goods are necessarily to be purchased from a particular source and the reason for such decision is to be recorded and approval of competent authority obtained.
    • For standardisation of machinery or spare parts to be compatible to the existing sets of equipment (on the advice of a competent technical expert and approved by the competent authority), the required item is to be purchased only from a selected firm
  3. Rule 194 of General Financial Rules 2017 (Single Source Selection/Consultancy by Nomination) – The selection by direct negotiation/nomination, on the lines of Single Tender mode of procurement of goods, is considered appropriate only under exceptional circumstances such as:
    • Tasks that represent a natural continuation of previous work carried out by the firm;
    • In case of an emergency situation, situations arising after natural disasters, situations where timely completion of the assignment is of utmost importance;
    • Situations where execution of the assignment may involve use of proprietary techniques or only one consultant has requisite expertise.
    • Under some special circumstances, it may become necessary to select a particular consultant where adequate justification is available for such single-source selection in the context of the overall interest of the Ministry or Department. Full justification for single source selection should be recorded in the file and approval of the competent authority obtained before resorting to such single-source selection.
    • It shall ensure fairness and equity, and shall have a procedure in place to ensure that the prices are reasonable and consistent with market rates for tasks of a similar nature; and the required consultancy services are not split into smaller sized procurement.
  4. Per the National Disaster Management Plan 2019, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has the power to authorise the Departments or authorities concerned, to make emergency procurement of provisions or materials for rescue and relief in a threatening disaster situation or disaster.

It is important to note that the Government of India has declared COVID-19 as a ‘disaster’ hence the measures in public procurement for disaster management can be exercised to combat the Coronavirus outbreak. 

State Practices

The State Governments can form procurement norms over and beyond the General Financial Rules. Below are some of the provisions in states’ procurement mechanisms:

  • Rajasthan: Per the Rajasthan Transparency in Public Procurement Act, 2013 (RTPP), Chapter IV, a procuring entity may procure the subject matter by the method of single source procurement, in the emergent situation arising out of floods and other natural calamities, and the subject matter of procurement may be procured up to the ceiling rates. 
  • Kerala: The Stores Purchase Manual 2013 states that Single Tender Procurement may be adopted in a case of emergency where the required stores are necessarily to be purchased from a particular source.

Way Forward

These measures allow the Government departments the flexibility to procure goods faster and more efficiently. Moreover, some of these provisions also enable procurement of innovative goods and services offered by startups, researchers, and innovators. Such procurement activities can help in efficient procurement of goods and services to combat COVID-19.