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Health a way to wealth for MP official & family

Suspended Health Director and family have 85 bank accounts adding up to deposits of Rs 30 crore. The I-T Department is also examining transactions of 27 credit cards....

The slogan ‘health is wealth’ has come to acquire a different connotation in Madhya Pradesh,a state ranked as one of the worst performers on indexes such as malnutrition,and infant and maternal mortalities. Raids by the Income Tax department and state’s anti-corruption watchdog,the Lokayukta Organisation,on the premises of health department officials have led to the recovery of so much cash,valuables and details of investments that there’s little doubt where the money is going.

There’s only a marginal improvement in the health services,but health department officers have lined up their pockets at a phenomenal rate over the years. The state continues to get huge funds from the Centre,making the health department one of the most sought after postings,given that there’s enough scope to manipulate figures in the absence of any field monitoring.

When I-T sleuths raided the palatial bungalow of the Director of Public Health and Family Welfare,Dr Yogiraj Sharma,in Shaktinagar locality of Bhopal in 2007,they found cash stashed in beds and cupboards besides a large number of gold jewellery and silver articles. But more than the cash it was the details of his properties,investments and bank accounts that left the I-T sleuths wide-eyed. It took them more than two years to make some sense of the trail of investments made by the 55-year-old in his own name as well as in the names of his relatives and associates. As many as 85 bank accounts in the name of Dr Yogiraj Sharma and his family members were found with a total deposit of Rs 30 crore. The department is still examining the accounts and the transactions of 27 credit and other cards issued by banks.

“It proved beyond doubt that government funds have been siphoned off into the companies of Gaurav Sharma and Shashi Sharma,son and wife,respectively of Dr Yogiraj Sharma,” said a report compiled by the IT department. The I-T sleuths found papers containing names of medicines and medical equipment suppliers and the commission taken by Sharma. His relatives,who did not file their I-T returns,were fobbed of as owners of some of these companies that reported transactions running into crores.

Sharma once drew his power from flaunting his proximity to former chief minister and Congress leader Digvijay Singh at whose ancestral property,his (Sharma’s) father was employed as a priest. He was attached to the department and posted in Bhopal for a long time,a proof of his strong political links that did not break even after the Congress lost power to the BJP in 2003.

Sources in the department told The Indian Express that Dr Yogiraj Sharma had started dictating terms to his seniors,who,too,fell in line,all because of his political connection.

Barring a brief period when the then chief minister Uma Bharti sent him to Gwalior,Sharma returned and occupied the director’s post that allowed him to control funds and channel them at will.

The government later suspended Sharma and handed him a compulsory retirement order,but he challenged it successfully on technical grounds. The Madhya Pradesh High Court asked the government to reinstate him,leading to another round of legal battle. To get around the court order,the government suspended him again,this time citing a departmental inquiry against him.

Dr Ashok Sharma,another health director,and IAS officer Rajesh Rajora,who was Health Commissioner,when the scam broke after I-T raids,have also been suspended by the government.

The state government justified the action against Dr Ashok Sharma saying he faced six Lokayukta inquiries. And 1990 batch IAS officer Rajora was suspended because “his conduct violated service rules”. The twin suspension on Wednesday followed a report submitted by the I-T department to the state government.

While the searches at the IAS officer’s premises did not reveal much,except some investment in the names of his in-laws,searches at Dr Ashok Sharma’s premises provided enough clues about his involvement in the racket.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan cracked the whip two years after the raids were conducted. The government has already got a bad name in the wake of I-T raids at an IAS couple,Tinoo and Arvind Joshi.

The I-T also raided the premises of the then health minister Ajay Vishnoi’s brother Abhay,a government employee. While the minister was forced to resign in the wake of pressure put by the Opposition parties,others managed to evade action. The Opposition had argued that it would be impossible for officers to engage in rampant corruption for so long without the knowledge of their political bosses.

Dr Yogiraj Sharma and an accomplice Ashok Nanda had floated companies that got most contracts — ranging from drug supply to publicity — from the health department. Besides over-invoicing,other irregularities like fictitious supply had come to light during the probe.

Two teams from the government medical colleges had found that rusted kits had been supplied to referral units that treated women before and after deliveries. The government ordered a probe,but Yogiraj Sharma and others escaped without any action despite adverse findings.

Last week,the Special Police Establishment of Lokayukta Organisation filed an FIR naming Yogiraj Sharma,Rajora,Nanda and some government employees in a Rs 11.99-crore scam. The amount had been paid to the company before delivery of kits.

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