Monday 27 June 2022
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Chaturvedi: Clean or not-so-clean?

Yesterday, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) tried to stun everybody by accusing Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, who has earned a reputation of an honest politician with years of clean record behind him, of removing Sanjeev Chaturvedi from the post of Chief Vigilance Officer to rescue an aide of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Rajya Sabha member from Himachal Pradesh JP Nadda.

AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal addressed a press conference to some information extracted by his party that, he claimed, corroborated the allegation. The press release issued on the occasion read as follows (unedited):

AIIMS is riddled with corruption, especially by its seniormost officials. Two years back, an honest and very pro-active officer, Sanjeev Chaturvedi, was posted as Chief Vigilance Officer. Now, it became difficult for these seniors to indulge in corruption. Sanjeev started acting swiftly against corruption. Very powerful people involved. These powerful people, through their political connections, made several attempts to get him removed. But all these attempts proved unsuccessful, till BJP came to power.

After coming to power, the first action that BJP took on corruption front was to remove this anti-corruption crusader from this post. Interestingly, BJP came to power because people were fed up of scam tainted UPA government. BJP repeatedly promised that it would remove corruption. This action of BJP government is completely contrary to what they promised.

What was the immediate provocation that led to removal of Sanjeev Chaturvedi?

The following 2 incidents seem to have led to his immediate removal:

Medical Council of India (MCI) accords recognition to private medical colleges. Some private medical colleges are notorious for having inadequate infrastructure and faculty, thus compromising with the quality of medical education imparted in these institutes. In order to ensure proper quality of education and compliance of its guidelines, MCI sends doctors to inspect these colleges. MCI found that these inspectors often accepted lavish hospitality of inspected colleges, which could influence their reports. Therefore, MCI has issued detailed and strict guidelines to all inspectors not to entertain the hospitality of inspected college under any circumstances.

Dr AC Ammini, Prof and Head of Endo department of AIIMS, was sent by MCI to inspect Vinayaka Missions Medical College and Hospital, Karaikal. She is accused of having accepted lodging, boarding and other hospitality from the inspected college. The case is so water tight that the expenses made by the said college on Dr Ammini are booked in their cash book directly in her name. CBI recommended major penalty proceedings against Dr Ammini. MCI also recommended major penalty proceedings. Letter from MCI is annexed as Annexure 1. Accordingly, Sanjeev Chaturvedi recommended imposition of major penalty. However, the then Health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, reduced it to minor penalty. But now, the present Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, has completely exonerated her and even withdrawn the minor penalty. Copy of Dr Harsh Vardhan’s file noting is annexed as Annexure 2.

If Dr Harsh Vardhan were honest and committed against corruption, he should have overruled his predecessor’s decision to reduce penalty. Dr Harsh Vardhan should have concurred with the views of CBI, MCI and CVO and imposed a major penalty. On the contrary, he completely dropped the proceedings against the accused officer.

Who is Dr Ammini? Why did Dr Harsh Vardhan go out of his way to help Dr Ammini? Because Dr Ammini has been treating Mrs Sushma Swaraj for her diabetes for the last few years and is very well known to her.

This shows malafide intentions on the part of Dr Harsh Vardhan. He has supported a corrupt officer for extraneous reasons.

Though this may not be the prime reason for removal of Sanjeev Chaturvedi, however, this incident raises questions about Dr Harsh Vardhan’s integrity.

The prime reason for immediate removal of Sanjeev Chaturvedi was JP Nadda, who is Rajya Sabha member of BJP from Himachal Pradesh. He is a very senior and powerful BJP leader. He has been appointed as General Secretary in the new BJP hierarchy. Vineet Chawdhry is the link between Sanjeev Chaturvedi and JP Nadda. Vineet is a Himachal Pradesh officer and was earlier the DDA in AIIMS. Vineet is extremely close to Nadda. Here were several allegations of corruption against Vineet. Sanjeev started taking actions against Vineet. Finally, CBI registered cases of corruption against Vineet. This annoyed JP Nadda to no extent. Nadda started making complaints against Sanjeev. Fundamentally, Nadda’s complaint against Sanjeev was that procedures had been violated in appointing Sanjeev as CVO.

Nadda’s complaint was examined by Health ministry many times and was rejected. It was examined and rejected as late as on 23rd May 2014, just 5 days before the present BJP government was sworn in. On 23rd May, Health ministry closed Nadda’s complaint and noted that Sanjeev’s appointment was in order. Copy of Health ministry’s file noting dated 23rd May is annexed as Annexure 3.

When Nadda’s complaint was examined and closed on 23rd May, then what changed in the two months between then and now? No new facts have come on record. Sanjeev has been removed citing the same complaint, which was closed two months back.

This indicates malafide on the part of the Health Minister.

Absence of CVC’s clearance is being cited as the reason for removing Sanjeev:

CVC did raise an objection on this issue earlier. However, the same was replied to by Health Ministry. A copy of file noting is annexed as Annexure 4. Interestingly, CVC’s approval was not obtained for any of Sanjeev’s predecessors. But CVC never objected in any of the earlier cases. For instance, Vineet was the CVO before Sanjeev. However, CVC’s approval was not obtained in Vineet’s case. Neither did CVC object to it. Because Sanjeev challenged the most powerful interests in AIIMS, everyone pounced upon him.

Also, the fact that CVC has put Sanjeev’s name on its website and has been accepting Sanjeev’s reports in many vigilance cases, shows that Sanjeev’s appointment has since been accepted by the CVC.

But why did Dr Harsh Vardhan remove Sanjeev now, when that issue had been settled long ago? Did CVC raise an objection now? No. This shows that CVC’s approval is merely being used as an excuse by the minister to remove Sanjeev whereas the real motives of the minister are different.

CVC’s approval is merely a formality. Sanjeev’s work has been appreciated by everyone, including the Parliamentary Standing Committee. If CVC’s approval was really an issue, the minister could have approached the CVC and obtained the same, rather than removing the officer.

Dr Harsh Vardhan’s haste only in this case raises questions:

Annexed as Annexure 5 is a complaint to Dr Harsh Vardhan against a Joint Secretary in Ministry of Health. The complaint was made on 24.7.2014. Complaint relates to wrongdoings and irregularities in the 6 new AIIMS, which are being constructed. Dr Harsh Vardhan has not taken any action on this complaint but has acted with extra-ordinary speed in removing Sanjeev.

Sanjeev’s removal constitutes breach of privilege of Parliament:

Union Health Secretary had given a specific commitment to Parliamentary Standing Committee on 8.6.2012 that Sanjeev Chaturvedi would be posted as CVO in AIIMS and he was thus posted.

Under influence of some powerful vested interests, there were attempts to remove Sanjeev from this post within a few months of his posting. The Parliamentary Standing Committee Chairperson took umbrage and sought to know why it should not be treated as breach of privilege of Parliament. The Government immediately withdrew its proposal to remove him then.

Now, did Dr Harsh Vardhan inform or take permission from the Parliamentary Standing Committee? No. Has Dr Harsh Vardhan committed breach of privilege?

Also, the PMO had written on 23.11.2012 to the Cabinet Secretary that Cabinet Secretary should satisfy himself before removing Sanjeev Chaturvedi and keep PMO informed. This direction has also been violated by the present Health Minister (copy annexed as Annexure 6).

Impact of Sanjeev’s removal:

All cases against Vineet Chawdhry would be withdrawn. Due to cases against Vineet, he cannot become Chief Secretary. Once all these cases are withdrawn, the path would be cleared for him.
All cases of corruption involving powerful vested interests, which were being pursued by Sanjeev, would be closed.
A clear message would go to all officers that they should succumb to pressures from BJP bosses or else, they would be shown the door.

We demand:

Sanjeev Chaturvedi should be reinstated back immediately
CBI should investigate on this entire episode of Sanjeev’s removal
Dr Harsh Vardhan should either resign or he should be removed.

Appeal to the Prime Minister:

On many occasions, the Prime Minister has expressed his resolve to root out corruption. We are sure that he means it. This is the first case of corruption that has come to light since he took over. If he acts swiftly and strongly in this case, the entire country and officialdom would get clear signals that corruption would not be tolerated anymore. However, any delay or weakness on his part would create doubts in the minds of the people whether the Prime Minister actually means what he says.

(Annexure 7 contains details of some of the corruption cases dealt by Sanjeev Chaturvedi)

The annexures are attached to this report. It is, interestingly, after a long time that Kejriwal has made an allegation against a political opponent based on some homework his party did in digging out data to substantiate a charge. This used to be the party’s modus operandi when the AAP was launched, but it soon degenerated into wild accusations like alleging on Twitter that the media was paid (by whom?) Rs 1,400 crore to malign him or uploading pictures of a deserted building in Gujarat to pass it off as a running health centre to demean Narendra Modi who was then the State’s chief minister.

Today Dr Harsh Vardhan shot back, rubbishing Kejriwal’s accusations and pointing out the fact that the AAP, which he did not name, continuing with the BJP’s policy of ignoring the Delhi-based party officially, had deliberately hidden such findings about Chaturvedi that were adverse.

The health minister wrote on his Facebook page (unedited):

I have placed all systems in the country’s central hospitals, including the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences, under critical review to end systemic and symptomatic corruption.

In my first 90 days in office hardly a day has passed without inquiring into the transparency of the ministry and its outposts. Very soon the results are going to be in the public domain.

There are many aspects to corruption in hospitals which as a medico I know exist. If money is made in the allocation of beds or as kickbacks from suppliers, it is sleaze. What is equally corrupt is the silent practice of reserving beds and facilities for employees or VIPs. I intend rectifying both these forms of corruption.

The re-profiling of Mr Sanjeev Chaturvedi, the Deputy Secretary posted at AIIMS with the powers of a Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO), has generated a storm in some quarters. To me what was moot was the anomaly in the very posting of a CVO without the sanction of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and preserving the sanctity of the institution.

Mr Chaturvedi’s designation as CVO was opposed by the CVC in 2012 and 2013. Disregarding the CVC’s directives was part of a design to weaken the institution. In 2011, the then government had tried to demolish public faith in the CVC by appointing a tainted bureaucrat as its head. This appointment had been struck down by the Supreme Court. I therefore did my bit to restore the image of the CVC.

It was regrettable that a political slant was given to the reprofiling of Mr Chaturvedi’s job. He has neither been suspended, nor transferred.

Besides this, I was conscious that the systems at AIIMS needed to become more transparent. Patients who travel great distances need to be informed before starting out the precise bed vacancy position, or the availability of the dialysis machines, or an operation date. AIIMS is a mini-township in need of its own e-governance.

Shortly after assuming office, I have personally inspected AIIMS and all the central hospitals in New Delhi. I also visited four of the six new AIIMS and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) with a view to suggesting new ways to improve their services.

I had stated on my first day in office that I will impose 500 percent transparency and adopt a zero tolerance for corruption.

Indeed, a news website reported to have found that, as a probationer in the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy at Dehradun, Chaturvedi was served with many show cause notices for indiscipline and misconduct during 2003-04. Another news portal provided the information that these notices were issued vide letters no 10 dated 8 January, 60 dated 23 May, 81 and 76 dated 25 June, 97 dated 9 July, 106 dated 16 July, 137 dated 14 August of 2003; 186 and 187 dated 28 January, 209 and 210  dated 2 February, 240 dated 26 April, 254 dated 11 May, 307 dated 8 July, 311 dated 14 July of 2004; 348 dated 27 January, 367 dated 31 May, 369 dated 2 June, 388 dated 19 July, 394 dated 25 July of 2005, and 2166 dated 1 January and 2168 dated 2 January of 2010.

During the year 2004, Rakesh Jagania, a probationer from the Scheduled Caste community, had alleged that Chaturvedi had abused and assaulted him. The district magistrate of Dehradun ordered the academy to conduct an inquiry, which found him guilty of assault.

During the year 2009, when Chaturvedi went for a training course to IIM Ahemdabad, he indulged in gross indiscipline on account of which he was denied the certificate of participation. The academy authorities also brought it to the notice of the chief secretary, Government of Haryana.

In 2011, Chaturvedi’s wife and father-in-law levelled allegations of demand for dowry and mental torture and sent a complaint to then Director of the IG National Forest Academy Dehradun. No action was initiated on the complaint but Chaturvedi’s marriage ended after sometime with a divorce.

Kejriwal didn’t mention the controversial past of the said officer in whose favour he held a press conference.

The tenure of Sanjeev Chaturvedi, a Haryana cadre forest service officer of 2002 batch, was to last till June 2016. The office has now been assigned to Joint Secretary and CVO of the health ministry Vishwas Mehta “for three months with immediate effect”.

Following the order, Chaturvedi had written to the secretary, Ministry of Health, saying the order amounted to bypassing the directions of the Prime Minister’s Office and Civil Services Board’s repeated commitments to the parliamentary committee statuary approvals under the AIIMS Act, 1956. He demanded a revocation of the order. Chaturvedi said in his letter that, on the one hand, the prime minister had publicly declared “na khaunga, na khane dunga” (will not indulge in corruption nor allow others) and spoke of a new work culture based on honesty and efficiency and, on the other, right under his nose in the most prestigious medical institute of the country, certain corrupt elements succeeded in achieving what they could not in the past two years.

In yesterday’s press conference, Kejriwal was heard repeating much of Chaturvedi’s phraseology not only from the letter above but also from the officer’s interaction with journalists where he had mentioned a dog had been admitted to AIIMS for treatment. Given the use of almost identical language and citations, it is now being questioned whether the AAP chief did an independent research to get to the truth or merely took dictation from the contentious bureaucrat.

Yesterday Dr Harsh Vardhan had termed the controversy surrounding the removal of Chaturvedi as a “ farce”, and defended the government decision saying the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had rejected his name twice and his continuation as CVO was irregular and indefensible.

“Sanjeev Chaturvedi (was) twice rejected by CVC. His continuation as CVO irregular and indefensible. CVC’s unattended concerns addressed at last,” the health minister posted on Twitter.

The charge of his office has been assigned to Joint Secretary and CVO of the Union Health Ministry Vishwas Mehta.

In another post on Twitter, Vardhan said, “ farce over AIIMS CVO reprofilingMore in offing. Wait and watch (sic),” indicating more changes in the AIIMS administration.

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Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasgupta
Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sirf News Surajit Dasgupta has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life, the first national affairs editor of Swarajya, executive editor of Hindusthan Samachar and desk head of MyNation

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  1. I wish to exonerate Madam- Prof A C Ammini. She died last year and I can say this that no one knows her better than I do as a student of hers. She was incorrupt and honest. Extremely simple lady. She simply wasn’t t aware of the protocol.It seems she did not rate that college favorably either- so where does the issue of corruption arise. Its not a good thing to unnecessarily blame some one. To us she was the best teacher. To her patients she was the best doctor. I have yet to see someone so compassionate and caring as her.besides being so knowledgeable and practical

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