Pending Before Nadda
Cases for which approval for prosecution has been sought
- Vineeth Chaudhary appointed highly paid consultants known to him without issuing advertisements or conducting interviews. Former minister Harshvardhan had recommended major penalties for this.
- Chaudhary spent Rs 26 lakh in renovating his single room office, but told the then health minister the expense was Rs 5 lakh.
- Dr Deepak Agarwal allotted computerisation works of AIIMS to known persons by fudging papers. No chargesheet yet.
- Ex-registrar V.P. Gupta found guilty of issuing ad work to a favourite firm without inviting tenders.
- Existing rate contract ignored by the department of lab medicine; revolving funds were used to procure equipment at high rates.
- Shailesh Yadav, ex-deputy director, and deputy chief security officer Rajiv Lochan gave security contract of Rs 30 crore to an ineligible security firm. It did not pay its workers and AIIMS had to pay a compensation of Rs 2 crore.
Union health minister J.P. Nadda has made a lofty assertion in a recent affidavit: it would not be in the interest of good administration, fairness and justice to reveal the status of pending corruption cases in his ministry. Perhaps unaware of the stand taken by the minister, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), however, has furnished details of 21 corruption cases related to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in response to a petition from the Centre for Public Interest Litigation. In all those cases, it turns out Nadda has not sanctioned prosecution in his twin capacity as minister and AIIMS president. What’s even more remarkable, the minister has even withdrawn sanction from cases for which prosecution was cleared by his predecessors, Dr Harshvardhan of the BJP, and before him, Dr Ghulam Nabi Azad of the UPA. Nadda seems to have taken no account of the considerations Harshvardhan and Azad might have had.
Is there cause for suspicion? Yes. Many of the cases point in the direction of Vineet Chaudhary, an IAS officer perceived to be close to Nadda. Chaudhary had once served as deputy director at AIIMS and the cases relate to that time. Earlier, Chaudhary was health secretary in Himachal Pradesh; Nadda had been the state’s health minister.
Nadda’s interventions in AIIMS matters began from the time he was no more than a BJP MP: he lobbied for the removal of Sanjeev Chaturvedi, the first chief vigilance officer (CVO) appointed at AIIMS and the one who had initiated some of the cases against Chaudhary. Chaturvedi had been active at his post: in less than two years, he had investigated 180 cases of fraud, misappropriation and corruption, filing chargesheets in 87, securing penalties in 78, and having 15 cases referred to the CBI. Since Chaturvedi’s easeout, there has been not one new case of corruption filed at AIIMS.
No action has been taken either on old prosecutions recommended by Chaturvedi; some of these are against Chaudhary and some against the present AIIMS director M.C. Mishra. Former health minister Harshvardhan too had approved major penal action against Chaudhary for involvement in serious malpractice. But Nadda has been sitting on these cases, referred to him by the CVC, for over nine months now.
“I’m officially jobless. My sole duty now is to disburse pension. They don’t need a senior officer on deputation for that.”
Sanjeev Chaturvedi, Former CVO at AIIMS
It was in view of this delay that lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan recently filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court seeking expeditious investigation of these cases. The petition highlights 31 serious offences investigated by Chaturvedi at the premier medical institute. In its affidavit to the high court, the CVC has said that in 21 of them, the matter is referred to the minister and pending there.
There’s more. On December 17, 2014, the CBI had filed an investigation report on Chaudhary’s involvement in the illegal purchase of surgical equipment worth Rs 67 lakh. All of the equipment was recovered from one room during a surprise check and found to be unused and past expiry date. However, Nadda, in his affidavit, claims that he has not received any such report against Chaudhary. In another case, he sanctioned the use of poor material in the construction of a Rs 50 crore underground parking lot, which was damaged in the very first rain in August that year.
Harshvardhan had approved major penalties against Chaudhary for causing the disappearance of a file on the appointment of a CVO—essentially a vigilance watchdog—at the institute. The file was last tracked in Chaudhary’s office and since then has remained inaccessible. However, Nadda insists in his affidavit that the former CVO, who had in fact filed an FIR about the missing file, had made it disappear. Interestingly, in the same affidavit, Nadda contradicts himself by arguing that no such file has ever existed. Several other cases of fraud committed by Chaudhary, are pending before the minister.
The PIL also makes mention of a November 28, 2014, Lok Sabha question by JD(U) MLA Santhosh Kumar about corruption in AIIMS. To this, Nadda argues—seven months after the question was raised—that information pertaining to the cases is still being gathered. He will produce them “in due course”, he says. However, elsewhere in the affidavit, Nadda states that he is not producing this information before the court as the disclosure may “jeopardise the outcome of and prejudice fair trial”.
Nadda’s 32-page affidavit hardly addresses the cases themselves. Maintaining that the issues in the PIL are all “false and frivolous”, the affidavit from Nadda targets Chaturvedi right from the very first line: it pleads with the court to quash the PIL since it is “aimed at espousing the purported grievances of Chaturvedi with respect to his service”.
In fact, the PIL makes no mention of Chaturvedi’s service-related problems. It only lists out corruption cases awaiting action, including cases against other senior officials of AIIMS. After ensuring that punishment was imposed in 78 such cases of corruption, and referring 15 more criminal cases to the CBI, Chaturvedi was removed from his office by Nadda on account of “procedural irregularities in his appointment”.
Recently, all of Chaturvedi’s duties and functions were formally withdrawn by AIIMS. A May 15 order, issued by the AIIMS management, states that files pertaining to all administrative matters will no longer be passed by the deputy secretary, that is, Chaturvedi. They will, instead, be cleared by the chief administrative officer. Chaturvedi has approached the high court contending that, despite drawing his salary from public money, as an officer of the deputy secretary rank, he is now officially jobless. He says, “My sole duty here is to disburse pensions. They don’t need a senior officer on deputation for this.” Taking serious notice of the matter, the Delhi High Court has asked for an immediate explanation for this action from the health ministry, the CVC and the AIIMS administration.
Chaturvedi’s removal was the result of consistent attempts by Nadda that ran for over a year, which included writing four letters to the department of personnel and training (DoPT) and former health ministers Azad and Harshvardhan, pressing for the removal of Chaturvedi as CVO. Owing to Nadda’s pressure tactics, the PIL argues, the vigilance administration was finally dismantled on August 14, 2014.
A watchdog, it seems, is being chained for peforming with efficiency.
By Pavithra S. Rangan in Delhi