A special court here Saturday granted bail to now-suspended Himachal Pradesh director of health services Dr Ajay Kumar Gupta, who was arrested on May 20 in an alleged of corruption after a 43-second audio clip went viral. In the audio clip, Gupta is purportedly heard asking a person for a bribe of Rs 5 lakh.
Special Judge Arvind Malhotra, who granted him bail after hearing the arguments of public prosecutor Sandeep Attri and defence counsel Kashmir Singh Thakur, said, “Ten days of curtailing the liberty of an individual… I feel right now that the scales of justice, they are tilting in favour of the fundamental right”.
Gupta, who is due to retire Sunday, is accused of seeking bribe against purchase of personal protection equipment (PPE) kits. He was in five-day police custody till May 30 after initially being remanded to five-day judicial custody following his arrest. He was suspended by the state government following his arrest.
The prosecution admitted that the 43-second audio clip is the only evidence against Gupta so far.
Arguing against bail plea, Attri sought more time for Gupta’s custodial interrogation saying “certain important witnesses from some firms have to be confronted with the accused”. He called Gupta, “this gentleman”, a “white-collar criminal” and alleged that when medical supplies are procured by means of corruption, it leads to a compromise with quality. “It poses a danger to doctors and health workers engaged in fighting the disease,” he said.
He said that Gupta used a borrowed phone while admitted in hospital during his judicial custody, and that he could tamper with evidence or approach witnesses if released.
Seeking bail for Gupta, his counsel argued that the investigators were yet to question Prithvi Singh, who is reportedly a liasioning officer of Punjab’s Dera Bassi-based firm Bio Aid and allegedly recorded the audio, in which he can be heard discussing the handover of Rs 5 lakh with the Himachal top health official.
The alleged scam took a political turn on May 27, when state BJP chief Rajeev Bindal resigned from his post on moral grounds saying some people were dragging the party’s name in the alleged corruption by the health official.
Defence counsel Thakur argued that purchase of any medical equipment was not made at Gupta’s instance. He contended that currently, all payments of the health directorate have been released to the suppliers, and Gupta had no direct role in procurement as it was done by the deputy director who started buying from the market when the pandemic struck, before two committees were constituted for the purpose.
“Bio Aid Corporation failed to qualify for the tenders floated by the directorate. The successful bidder was to sign the agreement with the directorate on May 18,” he said, alleging that the audio clip was released during this time by Prithvi Singh, who represented Bio Aid.
He added that Prithvi Singh or his firm made no complaint to any official authority or the vigilance regarding the alleged demand of bribe.
The audio clip was played in the courtroom after the defence talked of a “beep” in the conversation. The prosecution was quick to add that it did not mean the clip was doctored.
The judge asked the prosecution if the audio clip was the only incriminating evidence against Gupta so far, and the Attri replied in the affirmative.
The judge said that if further custodial interrogation is required, it can be done till Saturday evening before the order is passed, but the prosecution denied the offer.
Arguments on the bail application concluded on Saturday morning. Special Judge Malhotra pronounced his order in the afternoon.
On Thursday, the prosecution had informed the court that Gupta had not taken a bribe but had made an attempt to do so.
The 43-second audio clip
The 43-second audio clip was played out in the court. Identities of the two persons heard on the clip are not revealed in the clip, but it has been claimed that the voices are purportedly of Prithvi Singh and Dr AK Gupta. The defence pointed out towards a ‘beep’ in the conversation, which the prosecution said did not indicate it was doctored.
Prithvi Singh: unclear
Dr AK Gupta: Oh bank bank *expletive* bank ik banda bheja hai maine bank mei account hi close kar dena aaj
Gupta: haan haan…nai matlab hi nai hai koi…zero tolerance… zero, zero, zero tolerance…zero tolerance… matlab hi nai hai
Singh (simultaneosly): aap bilkul sahi keh rahe ho sir teen dino se inhone latka ke rakha hua hai… aur apko bhi pareshan kar rha hi mai
Gupta: Mai *unclear* bank manager ko bol diya hai
Singh: Ji doctor saab
Gupta: ke dhai baje aaja, dhai baje aaja, chal *expletive* account change, to ICICI bank… Bank of Baroda band, bol diya gya
Singh: Bilkul sir
Gupta: hanji hanji
Singh: thik hai sir toh nikal rha hun mai
Gupta: niklo niklo… *unclear* kuch?
Singh: hainji? *Unclear* leka aa rha hun samaan apka ji
Gupta: haan samaan
Gupta: thik hai le ao. Kitna le aye?
Singh: Sir apne paanch lakh bola tha janab
Gupta: thik hai thik hai paanch… le ao le ao
Singh: thik hai, thik hai ji
Gupta: thik hai… OK OK
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