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Vigilance commission never opposed AIIMS anti-graft officer

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Saturday tried to justify removing the chief vigilance officer (CVO) of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) by saying, “Mr Sanjiv Chaturvedi’s designation as CVO was opposed by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in 2012 and 2013.”

A day earlier, the minister had tweeted: “Sanjiv Chaturvedi twice rejected by CVC. His continuation as CVO irregular & indefensible. CVC’s unattended concerns addressed at last [sic].”

However, some internal health ministry and CVC documents, which have been reviewed by Business Standard, reveal that the statement is false. CVC neither rejected nor opposed Sanjiv Chaturvedi’s candidature.

In fact, the documents show, Vardhan himself acted upon Chaturvedi’s recommendations as the AIIMS CVO in at least one corruption case unearthed by the latter. On June 30, Vardhan let off a professor with a mere warning, instead of approving a major penalty (which leads to dismissal).

Back in 2012, CVC had written to the health ministry that clearance needed to be taken for appointing CVO of AIIMS. It had asked the ministry to send a list of names of candidates to be vetted by CVC. But the ministry did not propose the name of any individual apart from Chaturvedi. Instead, in December, the ministry proposed specific designations, such as deputy director (administration) of AIIMS, joint secretary & CVO or deputy secretaries or directors of the ministry.

Even as it sent these designations, the ministry had noted that CVC had never vetted the appointments, which were done under the AIIMS Act. It had said AIIMS did not fall in the list of institutions that required CVC’s clearance. These facts were independently verified by Business Standard.

However, despite these facts, a health ministry statement issued on Saturday said: “To the minister, what was moot was the anomaly in the posting of a CVO without the sanction of the Central Vigilance Commission and preserving the sanctity of the institution.”

Asked to comment on the anomalies in the statement, neither ministry officials nor the minister replied.

Documents reviewed by Business Standard show that CVC replied to the health ministry’s December 2012 letter by saying the commission’s concurrence was required, but the ministry needed to send names of individual officials, along with their details, and not merely propose designations of officials who could possibly take additional charge as CVO at AIIMS.

The ministry in 2013 sent names of three individuals, including Chaturvedi. In response, CVC sought prior vigilance records of the three candidates to carry out its assessment.

However, by this time, under scrutiny of Parliament’s standing committee on health & family welfare, and various other quarters, the health ministry had taken a clear stand that CVC’s concurrence was not required for appointing Chaturvedi (who had now been working there for almost two years).

The health secretary, the seniormost bureaucrat in the ministry, on May 23 this year, approved that the ministry did not need CVC’s concurrence, the anti-graft officer at AIIMS was to be appointed under the AIIMS Act. He noted: “All statutory requirements in the creation of and appointment to the post of chief vigilance officer have already been completed and, therefore, the matter should be closed here itself.” The papers where the AIIMS governing bodies gave their approvals according to law have been reviewed by Business Standard.

The health secretary then went on to praise Chaturvedi’s work as CVO, calling it exemplary and record-breaking.

Also, there is another set of documents that proves it is not only the health ministry that accepted Chaturvedi as the vigilance officer of AIIMS; even CVC had accepted the appointment. A series of correspondence shows that CVC reviewed, as well as approved, all the anti-graft actions taken by Chaturvedi during his two years as CVO. Under the law, CVOs are required to get their actions against corrupt Grade-A officials vetted by both CVC and the health minister. CVC’s last such letter to Chaturvedi as CVO was written on May 28 this year. The is the one where minister Vardhan, as president of AIIMS, waived even the already diluted minor penalty for corruption charges against a professor. The post of the AIIMS president, under law, is held by the Union health minister.

But in the statement on Saturday, the minister also said: “I had stated on my first day in office that I will impose 500 per cent transparency and adopt a zero tolerance for corruption.”

“Disregarding CVC’s directives was part of a design to weaken the institution. In 2011, the then government had tried to demolish public faith in CVC by appointing a tainted bureaucrat as its head,” he added

The Bharatiya Janata Party had on Friday come out to defend the removal of Chaturvedi from the post of chief vigilance officer of AIIMS.

The party spokesperson had said Chaturvedi’s designation was not high enough for the CVO post. But the CVC manual (which also governs profit-making institutions of the government) says that deputy secretaries (Chaturvedi’s designation) can hold the post of CVOs. In his reply to Business Standard, the health secretary had also said that the decision to remove Chaturvedi was taken by the minister.

But Vardhan defended his decision, writing on Friday on microblogging site Twitter: “Fine farce over AIIMS CVO reprofiling. Media friends, smell the coffee! Health ministry’s health needs help.”


CONFLICTING VIEWS

WHAT THEY SAY

The officer is of too low a designation to be AIIMS’ CVO; not approved by the Central Vigilance Commission
BJP on Thursday

Central Vigilance Commission rejected Chaturvedi as CVO, twice
Harsh Vardhan on Friday
(on Twitter)

CVC opposed Chaturvedi as CVO, twice; transfer was done to maintain the credibility of both CVC and AIIMS’
Harsh Vardhan on Saturday
(in a statement)

WHAT THE DOCUMENTS SHOW

  • Dec 2012: CVC asks for names to vet; ministry sends Chaturvedi’s name and other designations (not individual names); protests against CVC’s role
     
  • Sep 20, 2012: Parliament’s standing committee issues privilege notice to ministry for trying to remove Chaturvedi
     
  • Dec 2012: CVC asks ministry to give names of other individual candidates as well
     
  • Jan 2013: Health ministry assures Parliament panel that Chaturvedi will not be removed
     
  • Mar 2013: Ministry proposes names of Chaturvedi and two others; CVC asks for background vigilance details to assess the candidates
     
  • 2012-2014

    CVC keeps giving statutory approvals to all anti-graft decisions of Sanjiv Chatruvedi as CVO of AIIMS

    Refers to Chaturvedi as CVO in its communications to the ministry
     

  • May 2014: After J P Nadda’s third letter against Chaturvedi, health secretary says all statutory requirements have been met and calls Chaturvedi’s work record-setting and exemplary
     
  • Jun 2014: Harsh Vardhan acts on Chaturvedi’s recommendations as CVO but lets off a professor accused of corruption with a mere warning, instead of penalising her
     
  • Aug 2014: Vardhan overrules the secretary and the rest of the ministry and removes Chaturvedi from CVO post

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