Six mystery deaths, investigations against multiple BSP ministers, 74 cases and 48 chargesheets later, the CBI finally questioned the BSP supremo last week. The Enforcement Directorate is carrying out a separate probe. DEEPTIMAN TIWARY recalls
What is NRHM Scam?
The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) was launched by the first UPA government on April 12, 2005, to provide accessible, affordable and quality healthcare to the rural population, especially to the vulnerable groups in rural areas. Over Rs 8,000 crore was disbursed to the Uttar Pradesh government, then headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP). In 2007, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), led by Mayawati, ousted the SP in the Assembly elections and took the reigns of power. This is when, the CBI alleges, irregularities in the implementation of various schemes under the Mission began to occur. There are allegations of over Rs 5,000 crore, disbursed to 72 Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) in the state, having been siphoned off.
According to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), between April 2005 and March 2011, the State Health Mission, which was responsible for implementing NRHM schemes, “did not discharge its responsibilities adequately, resulting in Rs 5,754 crore going unaccounted for”. A series of serious allegations led to the arrest of Babu Singh Kushwaha, then a close aide of Chief Minister Mayawati’s. Six other ministers in the then BSP government were investigated. Among the murky developments in the case were the mysterious deaths of six people.
How and when did the alleged scam come to light?
It took two sensational murders for the lid to be blown off the alleged scam. On October 27, 2010, Vinod Arya, CMO with the state’s Family Welfare Department, was shot dead by motorcycle-borne assailants in broad daylight in Lucknow. On April 2, 2011, another CMO, B P Singh, was killed in similar fashion in the city. The police subsequently arrested Deputy CMO Y S Sachan in connection with Singh’s murder. But on June 22, 2011, Sachan was found dead in Lucknow jail in mysterious circumstances. This led to a public outcry over alleged corruption in the NRHM, and the Mayawati government, in July 2011, referred the case to the CBI. Meanwhile a petition was filed in the Allahabad High Court, and the court in November that year ordered a wider probe into the scam by the CBI.
What did the CBI do?
The CBI formed a special team which arrested the then Family Welfare Minister Babu Singh Kushwaha and the UP principal secretary (health and family welfare) Pradeep Shukla. It also conducted raids at more than 100 places across the state, and questioned scores of people connected with the investigations. Many CMOs, along with about 40 government doctors, were detained, questioned, arrested and suspended. Owners of 200 firms supplying drugs, instruments and construction material too were questioned as the scope of the investigation kept widening. The CBI has so far registered a total of 74 cases, and filed 48 chargesheets. The CBI probe has been followed by investigations by the Enforcement Directorate, which has registered a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and attached properties of various accused including that of Kushwaha. The agency recently attached assets worth close to Rs 200 crore belonging to the former state minister.
Why is this five-year-old case back in the news now?
Last week, the CBI turned the heat directly on Mayawati for the first time, first saying that they would get in touch with her in order “to unravel the larger conspiracy”, and then questioning her at her official residence in New Delhi. CBI sources say that Mayawati was responsible for bifurcating the UP Health Ministry into two departments of Health and Family Welfare in 2007, leading to the appointment of two CMOs in various districts. The Family Welfare Department was first directly under the Chief Minister, and was subsequently given to her close confidant Kushwaha. In March 2012, when Kushwaha was arrested by the CBI, he put the entire blame on Mayawati in his submission to the court. He told the court, “I was just a Minister, not the supervisor of the scheme. All the major decisions were taken either by the Chief Minister or by the chief secretary.”
What happens in the case now?
The CBI’s decision to question Mayawati was made after investigators allegedly discovered “new evidence” that indicated her involvement in the scam. According to CBI sources, the BSP supremo was questioned on various aspects of the scam, including the bifurcation of the UP Health Ministry. She is alleged to have evaded giving answers to some crucial questions, and expressed ignorance of some decisions that were taken during her tenure as Chief Minister. The BSP has not so far reacted officially to the CBI’s move — and despite having expressed her willingness to cooperate with the investigations, Mayawati had herself recently accused the Centre of misusing the agency for political gains ahead of the Bihar Assembly elections. The CBI’s questioning of Mayawati does not automatically open the doors for her arrest in the immediate future. The agency will have to back its suspicions on her involvement with direct evidence against her. It would have to prove that the creation of separate Health and Family Welfare Departments — allegedly so NRHM funds could be put directly under the charge of Family Welfare — were done on the orders of Mayawati. Decisions such as these usually go through the state Cabinet.