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The Inquisitor Of Maladies

A forest service officer faces trouble for taking his job as vigilance chief at AIIMS seriously

The Inquisitor Of Maladies
Jitender Gupta
The Inquisitor Of Maladies

“On the one hand, the prime minister has declared, ‘Na khaoonga, na khaane doonga’ and on the other hand, in the most prestigious medical institute in the country, right here in Delhi, certain corrupt elements succeed in achieving what they could not in the past two years.” Thus reads an angry letter dated August 16 to Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. It’s from Sanjiv Chatur­vedi, chief vigilance officer (CVO) at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi. Chaturvedi wants the ministry to withdraw its order—issued the same day—relieving him of his charge. His term, rudely cut short, is originally scheduled to end in mid-2016. He also seeks a CBI inquiry into his complaints and a comparative evaluation of his and his predecessors’ performance. The shunting-out had clearly left the CVO nettled, and he’s got a fair bit of backing. AIIMS staff expressed support for him in public; the Aam Aadmi Party held protests backing him; the AIIMS students union demanded his reinstatement; the media too pleaded his case. As a forest service officer, Chaturvedi comes under the Union environment ministry. It has given him a clean chit in a letter to the health ministry, where he is on deputation.

Initially, Vardhan fended off questions, saying the order against Chaturvedi was a routine, administrative matter. Later, he said the administrative structure was being reviewed, hence the order. Facing unending criticism, Vardhan finally tweeted that Chaturvedi’s appointment itself had been illegal and undeserved. Chaturvedi filed an RTI application demanding documents to substantiate the minister’s allegation. He also requested permission to speak to the media to defend himself against personal aspersions being cast on him. Since then, the minister has been silent.

The facts are clear. When Chaturvedi was posted as the first CVO of AIIMS in 2012, the statutory requirements for such an appointment, as set out in the AIIMS Act, 1956, were followed. The new post had been created, as required, by the institute’s standing finance committee, and ratified by the governing body and the institute body, both headed by the Union health minister (it was Ghulam Nabi Azad then). The CVC’s website lists Chaturvedi as the AIIMS CVO. The CVC has been accepting his reports and acting on them too. This discounts Vardhan’s allegation that the CVC had rejected Chaturvedi’s name twice during the appointment process: if so, why would it accept his reports?

When Chaturvedi filed an RTI asking for documents to back the allegations against him, Harsh Vardhan fell silent.

It became clear early enough that Chaturvedi’s appointment would be painful to many. In one and a half months of his taking charge, the health ministry started getting representations seeking his removal. It tried to transfer him to the Ayush (Ayurveda and other indigenous medical systems) department. This was foiled by the Civil Services Board (CSB). Then a parliamentary committee on health, observing the rising compla­ints of corruption at AIIMS, demanded and received an assurance from the institute that Chaturvedi would not be moved from his post. Transferring him, it warned, would amount to breach of parliamentary privilege. Even that support did not come without contention. One committee member—J.P. Nadda, a BJP MP from Himachal Prad­esh—continuously opposed retaining Chat­urvedi in his post. Since Chaturvedi is from the Haryana cadre and Nadda from Himachal, the conflict is probably indirect. It is bruited that Nadda may be machinating on behalf of Vineet Chaud­hary, an IAS officer of the Himachal cadre, now posted as a deputy director at AIIMS. As CVO, Chaturvedi had submitted a report that Chaudhary bent rules to give tenure extension to an engineer supervising works worth Rs 3,700 crore.

Many acknowledge that Chaturvedi has made a difference at AIIMS, taking on power-strutters. Guards praise him for ensuring that security contractors emp­loying them pay fair wages and make required remittances to their provident fund accounts. Of the two security firms he marked out for serious violations, one was owned by BJP Rajya Sabha MP R.K. Sinha. Chaturvedi also reined in doctors going abroad without clearance. A source says possibly all three personal physicians to the PM had made unauthorised trips abr­oad. AIIMS directors usually appoint favo­urites to that post. Chaturvedi nailed unauthorised travel by asking doctors to submit copies of their passports. He even summoned records from the emigration department. Another much-talked-about case is of the seizure of banned drugs worth Rs 6 crore at AIIMS. Police arrested the driver of the vehicle ferrying the stuff but wouldn’t act against the businessman owning the on-campus pharmacy for which the consignment was des­t­ined. He was a former Congress MLA. Chaturvedi investigated the supply of spurious drugs and took action against the pharmacy. Former health minister Azad, though not particularly fond of Chaturvedi, signed two internal reports rating the CVO’s work as “outstanding”.

No wonder Vardhan’s present order to remove Chaturvedi has caused consternation. The drama will continue, for Chaturvedi is known to be a tough and eccentric fighter. As a forest officer in Haryana, he confronted some powerful ministers for encroachments and other violations. He even took on chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. For his troubles, he was suspended; friends say false criminal cases were filed against him. But though Hooda is from the Congress, the UPA-II regime had stood by Chaturvedi. Dr Vard­han, on the other hand, seems to have given in to pressure from within his ruling BJP. Chaturvedi will not cave in easily. “You can trust him to fight a bloody and long battle,” says a lawyer who helped him in Haryana.

AIIMS, Delhi, has an annual budget of over Rs 1,450 crore. It has 10,000 permanent staff and over 800 faculty posts. Besides the medical college, hospital, spe­cialist centres, students’ and interns’ hostels, there are over 2,500 houses on the AIIMS estate of 138 acres. That makes it the biggest government hospital in the country. The scope for corruption is humungous. Yet—some might say for that very reason—AIIMS seems uneasy about having a hard-working watchdog.


Tweet For Tat

“Performance of Sri Sanjiv Chaturvedi has been exemplary and he is known for absolute integrity. He has been instrumental in exposing corruption….as CVO of Ministry, I am aware of the record number of penalties imposed/disciplinary proceedings initiated by him during the last two years…”

May 23, 2014
Dr Vishwas Mehta,
Joint Secretary & CVO


Aggrieved With The CVO

  • Vineet Chaudhary, IAS The CBI filed a case against him in January 2014 for irregular appointment of a deputy director (admin) to supervise engineering works worth Rs 3,750 crore. Chaudhary said to be close to BJP leader J.P. Nadda.
  • Sailesh Yadav, IPS Now police commissioner of Trichy. Accused of favouring a security agency run by BJP Rajya Sabha Member R.K. Sinha.
  • Ashok Ahuja, ex-Congress MLA His pharmacy at AIIMS was accused of selling fake medicines and his contract was terminated after inquiry.
  • B.S. Anand, supt engineer Illegal extensions granted were struck down. Lost his job in 2013.
  • Dr C.S. Bal, HOD (Nuclear Medicine) Penalised for unauthorised visits to France and Turkey.
  • Ms A.C. Ammini, HOD (Endocrinology) Health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, also president of the AIIMS governing body, intervened to waive penalty imposed by the CVO on her after the Medical Council of India complained she had billed it for her inspection of a college when the college had already paid her those amounts.

By Uttam Sengupta & Pavithra S. Rangan

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