Hours after Cabinet ministers gunned for Health Secretary Anurag Aggarwal in the Cabinet meeting amid Covid-19 spike in the state, Punjab government transferred Aggarwal out of Health Department on Monday evening.
Aggarwal has been replaced with Principal Secretary, Sports and Youth Services, Hussan Lal, who had been in the Health Department earlier. The outgoing Health Secretary has been posted as Additional Chief Secretary, Power and New & Renewable Energy, in place of Anirudh Tewari.
Aggarwal’s new posting holds importance as the government has promised a White Paper on power scenario in the state in the backdrop of controversial Power Point Agreements (PPAs) that provide for sustenance allowance for private thermal power plants even when the government is not purchasing power from them. The PPAs have been a political flashpoint in the state.
The transfer also comes amid a feud between Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu and Aggarwal. On Monday, Sidhu complained to the CM against Aggarwal during the Cabinet meeting and was supported vociferously by Jails Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, revealed sources.
Sidhu and Aggarwal have not been on same page for last couple of months. Their differences had come out in open when Aggarwal had dismissed 22 lab technicians posted in Amritsar district hospital citing “VIP culture” and use of “influence to stall transfers” two months ago.
He had stated that these lab technicians were pulling influence and getting their transfer orders stalled. A day later, the Health Minister had intervened and revoked the dismissal orders stating that the state needed manpower to combat Covid-19 and this was no time to take such action.
Later, Sidhu had written to the Chief Minister Amarinder Singh about Aggarwal, accusing him of personal bias and causing embarrassment to the government over the issue of missing 5 crore Buprenorphine-Naloxone tablets. The Health Minister had raised questions on the claims made by Aggarwal, who had reported the matter for the first time and issued notices to de-addiction centres.
The minister made a noting on the official file of missing Buprenorphine-Naloxone tablets, saying, that “the Health Secretary had brought on record certain facts which have no substance and cannot be corroborated by any document. The issue of missing pills was raised by him in November 2019 but even after seven months no concrete verification, reconciliation has been done by him. The HS should have got a thorough audit done of private de-addiction centres and taken a thorough report from the DHS office with correct and actual figures before issuing show cause notices to private de addiction centres. The actions of HS seem to have been done in haste and it is a personal bias to highlight and sensationalise the issue which has brought huge embarrassment to the government”.
The CM had ordered a fresh inquiry into the case, which is still on.
The latest provocation for raising the matter in the Cabinet came when Aggarwal recently ordered that the NRIs could not be tested on Trunat machines to get the report for their precondition to catch a flight abroad.
The orders came after a spat between Moga MLA Dr Harjot Kamal and a doctor recently when the MLA wanted the NRIs tested on priority and the doctor had preferred Covid-19 suspects for the testing.
Sidhu is learnt to have raised the issue of alienating the NRIs and told the Cabinet that they had given a legal notice to the state government.
Also, Sidhu is learnt to have told the Cabinet that the department had also ordered charging of fee for urine test of addicts to check whether they were taking de-addiction pills or not. Chief Minister had recently ordered urine test of such addicts to ensure the pills were going to the right persons.
Following the issues raised by the minister in the Cabinet, the government ordered a reshuffle of five IAS officers that included Aggarwal. Among other changes, Finance Secretary K A P Sinha has been given the additional charge of Department of Food and Civil Supplies in place of K Siva Prasad, who in turn has been given the charge of Department of Transport.
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