In such a state of health,‘small fry’ count for 50 cr

MP health director allegedly paid ‘political bosses’ Rs 1 crore periodically

Written by Milind Ghatwai | Bhopal | Published: May 14, 2012 3:54:32 am

When the Lokayukta Police raided the palatial house of director (medical services) A N Mittal in Bhopal last week,his agitated wife dared them to target his political bosses to whom,she said,he periodically pays Rs 1 crore and “not small fry like us”. Her embarrassed husband had to silence her and take her inside.

“Small fry” Mittal had property in excess of Rs 50 crore,according to preliminary estimates. The raid revealed not only the family’s taste for expensive personal accessories but the luxurious lifestyle their pet dogs,too,led in air-conditioned rooms.

Mittal is the third health director to be suspended — after Dr Yogiraj Sharma and Dr Ashok Sharma,the latter since reinstated — following a corruption-related raid. Besides,a health minister,Ajay Vishnoi,had resigned on “moral grounds” before he was allotted another portfolio. And IAS officer Rajesh Rajora was suspended in 2010,when he was a member of the Revenue Board,for irregularities during his tenure as health commissioner. An FIR was filed by the Special Police Establishment of Lokayukta in connection with a Rs 11-crore scam in the health department; he remains under suspension.

“It’s a powerful nexus of directors,bureaucrats and politicians that has turned the health department into a den of corruption,’’ says a former official of the department since transferred,and who didn’t wish to be named. The official says top officials draw power from senior officials and ministers whom they report to but they end up making rivals who eventually cause their downfall.

Mittal had been promoted over a few others and allegedly tweaked the department’s rules. Those he had superseded dragged him to court and the Lokayukta was flooded with complaints about various scams.

The former health official alleges the rot began nearly two decades ago when 15 persons enjoying political patronage were given out-of-turn promotions as chief medical officers in the undivided Madhya Pradesh. Most of them worked their way up as directors,allegedly became powerful enough to decide health budget allocations and started dictating transfers and postings of doctors,a side business worth a fortune in itself.

The funds they were dealing with swelled after projects like the National Rural Health Mission,and made the director (medical services) one of the most sought-after posts.

Of the 15,apart from the three suspended in MP — the one reinstated got a reprieve on technical grounds from courts — two are under suspension in Chhattisgarh for alleged involvement in financial irregularities. A few more are either facing or have faced probes.

“The arrogance stemming from power and money backed by political protection becomes visible when directors show little interest in official meetings,’’ says a member of an independent organisation tasked with evaluating various health schemes and their impact on beneficiaries.

The former health official recalls how powerful Dr Yogiraj Sharma,whose father was a priest at the ancestral house of former chief minister Digvijay Singh,used to be till income tax raids on his premises in Bhopal in 2007. “The IAS officer who was supposed to sign Sharma’s suspension letter could not muster up the courage because the director was in his chamber. He had to go to another room and put pen to paper.’’

Sachin Jain,adviser to the Supreme Court in what is called the “right to food” case,says corruption breeds in the health department because no top officer is ever held personally accountable for malnutrition,maternal or infant mortality or other such indices for whose improvement crores are earmarked. Over the past few years,MP,one of the eight states which now form the Empowered Action Group,has only marginally improved its performance on such indicators.

“The top political leadership satisfies itself by monitoring activities like targeted family planning and immunisation,which show instant results,but never bothers to improve the basic health infrastructure,’’ Jain says. “Why should officers get away with paying fines and penalties or punishment like compulsory retirement?” Jain says. He feels only if they are charged with criminal offences would they take their jobs seriously.

It’s not that the government has not changed its processes to procure drugs and equipment. It is that those responsible for purchases have found ways around them.

Till a few years ago,Laghu Udyog Nigam,a government body based in Bhopal,used to make all the purchases till the first phase of the raids,which included an official,Abhay Vishnoi,whose brother Ajay was then health minister. Ajay Vishnoi resigned and,after some time,returned as animal husbandry minister.

When there were complaints that purchasing powers were concentrated in the Bhopal-based directorate,these powers were split divided 80: 20 between Chief Medical and Health Officers CMHOs and the directorate.

“Now directors get a percentage from CMHOs who take a call on purchases. Also,CMHOs themselves buy their posts after paying upwards of Rs 5 lakh,” alleges the former health official. Some districts get three times more funds than required while the deserving get very little,he alleges.

“Such blatant corruption is not possible without the involvement of politicians,” alleges activist Abdul Jabbar. He says the government can’t just suspend health directors and hope things will improve.

Jain says the NRHM,though drawing to a close,also stresses community-based monitoring. Of the 50 districts in MP,it was tried only in Badwani by the government with NGOs Sathi and Jagrut Adivasi Sangathan as partners,but the experiment did not last because villagers started demanding transparency and a say in making purchases.

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