60 raids in a day,and it’s only begun

The NRHM mega probe: Rs 8,657 crore spent since 2005-06,all of UP in focus,and a list of suspects that can only grow longer

Written by Virender Kumar | Lucknow | Published:January 6, 2012 3:38 am

When was the last time the CBI raided 60 places in a day,as it did on Wednesday in the process of probing the scandal in implementation of the National Rural Health Mission in UP? It is the largest anti-corruption investigation the CBI has ever taken up in a state.

Geographically,the NRHM scam is spread over all 75 districts of UP,and extends to places in Haryana,Madhya Pradesh and Delhi,where many supplier firms have their offices. The span the CBI is expected to cover,as directed by the Allahabad High Court,is the entire period right since the NRHM’s launch in 2005-2006.

In terms of money,it is early yet to make an estimate. But Rs 8,657 crore was spent during those years and,in just the five cases that the CBI has initially taken up,which involve an expenditure of Rs 66 crore,the loss to the exchequer was Rs 26 crore.

Also,the scam has few parallels in terms of the number of suspects. So far,the CBI has named as accused Mayawati’s former family welfare minister Babu Singh Kushwaha; former directors-general of family welfare S P Ram and R R Bharti; the public-sector Jal Nigam’s general manager P K Jain,from whose residence 3 kg gold and Rs 1.11 crore cash were found; UP State Industrial Corporation general manager Abhay Kumar Vajpayee; four other officials and 18 firms.

The CBI has just about scratched the surface and,as the investigation proceeds,many more will fall into the net. Among the suspects are one more former minister,a clutch of BSP MLAs and MLAs,scores of firms and scores of officials. The public sector units and state’s co-operative institutions involved had political appointees as chairmen and government officers as managing directors.

THE BEGINNING

The NRHM,a national programme meant to bring down mother and child mortality,was launched in 2005-2006,with the Centre undertaking to provide 85 per cent funding to states. It covers several important national programmes,including various mother-and-child health and welfare schemes,national disease control programmes,and immunisation.

At the time of its launch,UP had a Samajwadi Party government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav. Very little work was done in the first two years,and a large part of the NRHM funds remained unspent.

Work in earnest began after the Mayawati government took office in May 2007. It gathered pace in 2009-10 and 2010-11 with an expenditure of Rs 4,877 crore,with unspent money from the previous years too being used up.

It was during this time that systematic,large-scale siphoning of money took place. It was also the time when Kushwaha was Family Welfare Minister. And there were two other constants: Health Minister Anant Mishra and IAS Pradeep Shukla,principal secretary for family welfare as well as mission director of NRHM. Mishra and Shukla are among the prime suspects and the agency has questioned both.

Initially,Mayawati was also the family welfare minister. Implementation of NRHM was the responsibility of Chief Medical Officers in districts,for they controlled the implementing machinery of the Health Department in their areas.

FREE RUN

In mid-2009 began a chain of events to change the system,creating one that gave the Kushwaha-Shukla duo almost a free run of the NRHM.

First,Mayawati put Kushwaha,then one of her most trusted men,in charge of family welfare. Next,the government okayed a proposal to appoint separate CMOs of Family Welfare in districts for implementation of NRHM schemes. Most of them were comparatively junior officers who were chosen for their pliability. Also,Shukla,principal secretary for health and family weflare,was given additional charge of the post of NRHM mission director.

Thus was created a system to run the NRHM,without checks and balances,though the Centre had conveyed objections in unmistakable terms in letters to the state.

A random audit,conducted by a team of Government of India officials in May last year,brought out the way things worked. Work and supply orders were given to public sector units or co-operative bodies (Kushwaha was also co-operatives minister) without tenders being called for competitive bidding.

These organisations actually served as conduits for channeling supply orders and contracts to favourites. Money was paid in advance and,almost invariably,the contractors and suppliers never kept their part of the deal,and were yet never penalised.

Now,the CBI has found that many of the beneficiaries were people close of Kushwaha. They include a contractor in Moradabad who got several big orders and who has been evading CBI notices for questioning. His offices were raided on Wednesday.

Then there is BSP MLC Ram Chandra Pradhan,whose residence in Lucknow was also raided in connection with the supply of computers. A firm owned by Pradhan’s wife Anita had got an order worth Rs 1 crore; the CBI found it unusual and questioned her. Anita Pradhan’s reply was that she knew nothing; she had just allowed a friend of her husband’s to use her firm’s name for business.

Besides,the CBI is investigating certain firms which,it believes,served as fronts for influential people for getting NRHM orders and siphoning money.

No scheme was spared from the loot. Construction of hospitals,small medical centres and sub-centres in far-off villages,operations under the National Blindness Control Programmes,incentives to pregnant women for delivery in hospitals under the Janani Suraksha Yojna,purchase of medicines,hiring of vehicles for various programmes — money for all of these was embezzled,often with records forged and bills faked.

OUT IN THE OPEN

This could have remained hidden but for the bitterness and rivalries that Kushwaha’s new system generated and which,it is believed,led to the murder of two Lucknow CMOs within six months — Dr V K Arya in October 2010 and Dr B P Singh in April 2011 — and later to the mysterious death of deputy CMO Y S Sachan in Lucknow jail last June.

Then,for the first time,the government admitted there had been “serious financial irregularities,payments against fake bills and embezzlement’” in Lucknow. Kushwaha and Mishra were asked to resign,while Shukla was removed. The government also abolished the system of parallel CMOs for Family Welfare and went back to the old system.

But,in the Allahabad High Court,the government opposed the PIL for a state-wide CBI inquiry,saying that there had been financial irregularities only in Lucknow,and there it had taken action. At other places,it claimed,there was little except some random audit objections. To stress its point,it also ordered a special CAG audit,but the court was not impressed and ordered the CBI probe.

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