Physician, heal thyself: How graft afflicted NRHM in UP -Devesh K Pandey

-The Hindu

Chief medical officers of 72 districts colluded with politicians and contractors in swindling funds meant for poor patients; the CBI has filed 82 cases so far

Investigations into the Rs. 9,000-crore National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam in Uttar Pradesh have led to the arrest of 149 persons, with the Central Bureau of Investigation arraigning 350 people as accused in 82 cases of corruption, cheating, forgery and conspiracy registered so far.

The CBI, which has deployed 120 of its officers for the investigation, claims to have amassed evidence against political leaders, legislators, top bureaucrats, medical officers, pharmacists, storekeepers, private companies, contractors and agents who made away with NRHM funds.

Of the 82 cases, at least 15 — when initially registered — involved an amount of over Rs. 1 crore each, while four pertained to alleged embezzlement of more than Rs. 10 crore each. The total amount mentioned in the cases was about Rs. 130 crore.

However, investigations have revealed a surge in the amounts. In one case registered in 2012, the initial amount was only Rs. 8 lakh even at the time of filing the charge sheet; now the CBI detects a fraud of almost Rs. 22 crore in the same case. While the probe has been completed in 71 cases, the agency has filed 101 charge sheets in 65 of them. Closure reports have been filed in five cases.

Among the prominent accused are former State Health Ministers Babu Singh Kushwaha and Anant Kumar Mishra, then Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare) Pradeep Shukla and former MLA Ram Prasad Jaiswal.

Last October, the CBI questioned former Chief Minister Mayawati.

“Six branches across three States of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi have been pursuing investigations (each branch comprises about 20 officers). In the past five years, a lot of effort has gone into screening documents running into thousands of pages, questioning of hundreds of suspects and examination of more than 2,000 witnesses. Most of the chief medical officers (CMOs), who had served in the 72 districts of Uttar Pradesh during the check period, are accused,” said a senior CBI official involved in the investigations.

The 82 cases have emerged from five preliminary enquiries instituted by the CBI days after an Allahabad High Court directive on November 15, 2011, on a petition following the murder of two chief medical officers (CMO) Vinod Arya and B.P. Singh in Lucknow in 2010-11. Deputy CMO Y.S. Sachan, an accused in the murders, was found dead, hanging, in a toilet in the Lucknow jail in June 2011, a leather belt around his neck.

With the filing of charge sheets, court proceedings have also begun. A fortnight ago, a Ghaziabad court issued non-bailable warrants against Anant Kumar Mishra, Health Minister between 2007 and 2011, and his parents on charges of corruption. The CBI had filed the charge sheet on July 21. The CBI alleges that Mishra received Rs.15-20 lakh per person for the posting of CMOs, who allegedly misappropriated NRHM funds. The agency has also furnished a list of assets and companies acquired by him in the name of his parents.

For its part, the Enforcement Directorate has attached assets, most prominent being the attachment of properties worth Rs.196 crore belonging to Mr. Kushwaha.

Modus operandi

The CBI makes the charge that in 2009, the then Family Welfare Minister, in order to lay hands on a major share of the funds, had conspired with the then Principal Secretary, an MLA and four private supplies to bifurcate the Department of Health and Family Welfare so that the funds could be placed directly under the charge of the Department of Family Welfare. Only those persons were posted as District Project Officers who allegedly facilitated in the award of contracts to chosen suppliers. CBI investigations have thrown up evidence revealing in what all ways the funds were embezzled at various levels.

The most common of them all was employed by CMOs who were authorised to make procurements worth only Rs.1 lakh per order.

“Instead of open tendering for purchases from manufacturing firms, they bought medicines and equipment from pre-decided companies at exorbitant rates by arranging bogus quotations. Purchase orders beyond Rs.1 lakh were split to evade detection,” said the official.

The most novel deception trick adopted by the scamsters was to print non-existent newspapers showing publication of Notice Inviting Tenders, which were never issued in reality.

“They then prepared comparative statements showing non-existent firms to have also applied and awarded contracts to companies/traders of their choice, showing them as the lowest bidder,” said another CBI official.

In many cases, the ordered goods — for which bogus or highly inflated bills were already cleared — were never or only partially supplied. “Medicines and surgical items available with the Directorate General of Supplies & Disposal, Central Medical Stores Depot and Employees’ State Insurance were bought from traders at jacked-up rates,” said the official.

Charge sheet

In one case, the CBI charge sheeted the then Family Welfare Minister, the Principal Secretary, Medical Health & Family Welfare and senior engineers of the Processing & Construction Cooperative Federation Ltd in December 2012 for causing a loss of Rs.16.93 crore.

The amount was part of Rs.89 crore allocated for the upgrade of 89 district level hospitals.

Modular operation theatres and air-conditioning units had to be installed in 44 hospitals. Shockingly, CBI alleges, the amount was released to a Gujraula-based company which never delivered the goods.

In another case involving the Principal Secretary, modular OTs and AC units were installed in 36 district hospitals at exorbitant rates. A charge sheet was filed against the accused persons in December 2012.

Three more charge sheets that followed were against 52 accused persons, involving allegations of fake transport bills for use of ambulance by Bal Mahila Chikitsalaya and Community Health Centre and bogus bills for manpower supply. Besides, some Uttar Pradesh Cooperative Federation Limited have been accused of causing a loss of Rs.2.64 crore in the grant of works for printing of “Mother and Child Safety” cards.

Another charge sheet against the then Family Welfare Minister and his associates pertains to Rs.13.4-crore funds for the upgrade of 134 district hospitals.

Almost 68 per cent of the amount was swindled, it is alleged.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched the NHRM in April 2005, to provide accessible, affordable, quality healthcare in rural areas. Rs.11,000 crore was sanctioned to Uttar Pradesh in 2005-06.

It received Rs.9,000 crore, from which Rs.8,000 crore was spent between 2005 and 2011.

In 2011, the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India detected an anomaly in the spending of over Rs.5,700 crore in NRHM funds.

The Hindu, 11 September, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/physician-heal-thyself-how-graft-afflicted-nrhm-in-up/article9095239.ece?homepage=true

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