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Ignoring Modi mantra, Health Minister gives crusading AIIMS vigilance chief the boot

Harsh Vardhan removed the chief vigilance officer who had uncovered widespread corruption at India's premier hospital

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said corruption was a bigger disease than cancer, news has surfaced that Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has removed All India Institute of Medical Sciences' (AIIMS') chief vigilance officer (CVO) Sanjiv Chaturvedi, who had unearthed a record number of corruption and financial scams in his two years at the country's premier hospital, in the middle of his tenure.

In removing the officer, the minister has ignored standing orders from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) - passed under the previous government - the Central Services Board and commitments made by his ministry to Parliament. He has also ignored the recommendations made against such a move by officials from his own ministry as late as May this year.

The CVO has completed only a little over two years of his four-year tenure. During these two years, the officer has been ranked 'outstanding' by the same ministry - the best a central service officer can get. He was appointed on July 7, 2012. Orders relieving him were passed on the minister's instructions on August 14 this year. Business Standard has reviewed the orders.

This is not the first time an attempt has been made to remove the officer from the post. The earlier attempts were thwarted by the intervention of Parliament's standing committee on health, the department of personnel and training, AIIMS itself, the Central Services Board and the PMO (then, with Manmohan Singh at the helm).

The officer, Sanjiv Chaturvedi, a forest officer with a reputation as a whistle-blower, was brought on central deputation to AIIMS after a rare instance of multiple orders by the President of India to rescue him from persecution by the Hooda government in Haryana for blowing the lid off several multi-crore scams in the forestry sector.

Over two years that he worked at AIIMS as the chief vigilance officer, he went about unearthing several scams. Pressures built up under the UPA regime from various quarters to remove him from the post. Stepping in, Parliament's standing committee took a commitment from the ministry that the officer would not be removed from the post before the fixed stipulated tenure of four years. The Manmohan Singh PMO, too, got involved to demand that any move to shift the particular officer should only be made after the PMO and the cabinet secretary had cleared the decision. These orders still stand. The Central Services Board also demanded that the government find out who in the ministry had tried to transfer the officer. The ministry backed off and committed on record to retain Chaturvedi at the post.

Defending his continuation as the CVO of AIIMS, the joint secretary in the health ministry wrote on record, as late as May 25 this year, that "the performance of Shri Sanjiv Chaturvedi has been exemplary and he is known for absolute integrity. He has been instrumental in exposing corruption and based on his findings inquiries have been initiated against some officers by agencies like CBI." He added the officer had recorded an unprecedented number of penalties and disciplinary proceedings in his two years as CVO.

The list of cases Chaturvedi unearthed and acted upon is a shockingly long one. An additional secretary and deputy director, along with several other employees of AIIMS and contractors, are now being investigated by CBI for a multi-crore scam in hiring security guards at India's premier hospital. Charges have also been framed against the additional secretary for getting his pet dog operated upon in the speciality cancer centre of AIIMS.

The performance guarantee of Rs 50 lakh has been forfeited from the private chemist shop run at AIIMS by an ex-MLA of the Congress party for selling illegal medicines. Unqualified engineers have been caught illegally supervising Rs 3,750 crore worth of expansion projects. An ex-registrar of AIIMS has been chargesheeted for irregularities in advertising. Proceedings against the chief administrative officer of AIIMS for illegal recruitment are on. A deputy director has been charged for financial irregularities in buying costly computers. A faculty member of AIIMS has been penalised for illegal foreign visits. Officers of AIIMS have been caught in a pension scam and illegal purchase of stores. Business Standard has reviewed papers pertaining to these and several other cases that involved unauthorised sub-letting, sexual harassment cases, fake certificates, false property certificates, single-tender purchases, and misuse of government property. More than 20 such cases are at critical stages of action.

The charge of the independent CVO of AIIMS, which the ministry had repeatedly clarified before would not be changed, has now been handed over to the CVO and joint secretary of the health ministry.

Incidentally, one of the several people who raised questions about the posting of Chaturvedi as CVO at AIIMS just after he took action against the Himachal Pradesh-cadre IAS officer posted as deputy director was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Parliament (MP) from the same state, J P Nadda. He is now a general secretary of the party. Business Standard has reviewed the series of letters he wrote to the ministry asking for dismissing Chaturvedi. The ministry rejected the issues raised by Nadda and reiterated that Chaturvedi would continue as CVO. The Department of Personnel and Training also went on record to note that the officer had been posted following all service rules.

Business Standard sent detailed queries to Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and the secretary Lov Verma. The minister did not reply. The secretary's office said in its reply that the decision had been taken at the highest level in the ministry - implying by the minister. He added that minister Vardhan, too, had received a letter from J P Nadda on the issue, besides the BJP MP's earlier letters in 2013. He also said that the Central Vigilance Commission had not approved Chaturvedi as CVO and his appointment was in violation of the CVC guidelines.

But the CVC website continues to list Chaturvedi as the CVO of AIIMS on its website and has formally corresponded on dozens of occasions with Chaturvedi as CVO. It refers to Chaturvedi as CVO in correspondence to the health ministry as well. Business Standard has reviewed these correspondences.

The health secretary's office also said it was not aware of all the cases of corruption highlighted by Chaturvedi as those were an internal matter of AIIMS. It added that complaints against Chaturvedi himself were at the preliminary inquiry stage but it did not offer any further detail.

Some cases involving senior officials and prosecuted by AIIMS CVO Sanjiv Chaturvedi in two years
  • Scam in security guards' recruitment
  • Pension scam
  • Operation of officer's pet dog at AIIMS cancer centre
  • Illegal purchase of costly equipment
  • Illegal sale of medicines at AIIMS pharmacy
  • Fake certificate scam
  • Doctors on illegal foreign visits
  • Single-bid tendering
  • Sub-letting of AIIMS property
  • Sexual harassment

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First Published: Thu, August 21 2014. 09:00 IST