Amidst the coronavirus outbreak in the country, the responsibility of procuring the essential medical equipment ranging from masks to ventilators lies on the shoulders of the respective government entities. Under normal circumstances, government procurement follows a considerably longer tendering method. However, under the present situation, expediting this process is the need of the hour and to ensure the same, the Cabinet Secretary vide I.D.No.101/2/1/2020-CA.IV dated 26th March 2020 has asked the Department of Expenditure to facilitate the procurement and transportation of medical and other essential supplies for COVID-19 operations by issuing suitable guidelines or providing necessary relaxations for the following Ministries/Departments:

i.    Department of Pharmaceuticals 
ii.    Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (including Department of Health Research)
iii.    Ministry of Textiles
iv.    Department of Consumer Affairs
v.    Ministry of Civil Aviation

The Cabinet Secretary has pointed out that a Logistics Committee for COVID-19 operations has been constituted in this regard to coordinate transport and other logistics services.

Before having a look at the important points present in this office memorandum, it is essential to understand specific rules under the General Financial Rules (GFR) as described below:

•    Rule 166 (Single Tender Enquiry):  Procurement from a single source may be resorted to in the following circumstances: 

i.    It is in the knowledge of the user department that only a particular firm is the manufacturer of the required goods.
ii.    In case of an 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 the competent authority obtained.

•    Rule 204 (Procurement of Non-consulting services by nomination): Should it become necessary, in an exceptional situation to procure a non-consulting service from a specifically chosen contractor, the competent authority in the Ministry or Department may do so in consultation with the Financial Adviser. In such cases the detailed justification, the circumstances leading to such procurement by choice and the special interest or purpose it shall serve, shall form an integral part of the proposal.

•    Rule 149 (Procurement via GeM): The rule mandates procurement of goods and services through the Government e-Marketplace portal for procurement of items available on the platform.

In view of the paucity of time and urgency of the situation, the following steps have been taken as mentioned in the office memorandum:

A.    Procurement

1.    The provisions of Rule 149 will not be applicable to purchases made under Rule 166 or Rule 204.
2.    Procurement may simultaneously be undertaken under Rule 166 or Rule 204 from more than one source if the entire quantity required is not available, or is not immediately available, from one source. Such procurement may, if unavoidable, be at different rates.
3.    Procurement may be undertaken through India’s Foreign Missions. Incase of procurement through Indian Missions abroad, the concerned Ministry/Department shall provide the necessary details including quantity, specifications etc. Prices shall be fixed by the Indian Mission in consultation with Ministry/Department.
4.    If the entire quantity required is not immediately available from any one method of procurement, procurement may also be resorted to simultaneously by multiple methods, namely, procurement under Rule 166/204, procurement through GeM, and procurement through other procurement methods (including through Indian Missions) and such procurement may, if unavoidable, be at different rates.
5.    Rates for transportation and logistics services shall be fixed by the Logistics Committee. 
6.    The term “essential supplies” will include any items deemed by the Ministry/Department, with the approval of the Secretary, to be essential supplies necessary for COVID-19 operations.
7.    Secretaries, if they feel necessary, may constitute committees of officers to deal with and recommend and/or decide any of these matters.

B.    Relaxation of expenditure guidelines

For expenditures on or before 31/03/2020: 

1.    If the Ministry/Department has sufficient funds, it may use the same for the expenditure requirements arising out of relief operations for COVID-19. 

2.    In the event of shortage of funds, the Ministry/Department is authorized to operate on the following budget head, as indicated below, in Demand no 38- Transfer to states for the year 2019-20 as a temporary measure:

i.    Relief on Account of Natural Calamity (Major Head)
ii.    General (Sub Major Head)
iii.    Assistance to state from NDRF (Minor Head)
iv.    Assistance to state from NDRF for calamities of severe nature (Sub Head)
v.    Grant in Aid (General) (Object Head)

3.    The authorization for this shall be up to INR 200 crores which, if crossed, the Ministry/Department may approach DoE to authorize excess funds.

For expenditures on or after 01/04/2020:

1.    The FA of with the approval of the Secretary of the Ministry/Department may authorize expenditure in excess of appropriation as per BE 2020-2021. Proposal shall be sent to DoE within three working days of incurring expenditure.

2.    Ministry/Departments are expected to submit expected expenditure to DoE by 10th April 2020.

3.    The excess expenditure should not exceed the ‘Quarterly Expenditure Plan’ of the first quarter of financial year 2020-2021 of the concerned Ministry/Department. Incase this limit may be crossed, prior approval of DoE needs to be taken.

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