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AIIMS whistle-blower removed at BJP leader Nadda’s behest

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan removed the officer and whistle-blower Sanjiv Chaturvedi, acting specifically upon the request of Bharatiya Janata Party national general secretary and Member of Parliament J P Nadda. The Central Vigilance Commission did not ask him or the health ministry to do so, new set of official documents reveal. Nadda also demanded that investigations of corruption cases that Chaturvedi had unearthed and processed be put on hold and personally reviewed by the health minister.

This contradicts the statements the health minister had made when the controversy broke. He had claimed, “Sanjeev Chaturvedi twice rejected by CVC. His continuation as CVO irregular and indefensible. CVC’s unattended concerns addressed at last.”

Records of the health ministry, reviewed by Business Standard, show that the minister was actually addressing concerns of his senior party colleague, Nadda.

Vardhan has removed Chaturvedi, who had unearthed a record number of corruption and financial scams in his two years at the country’s premier hospital. The Haryana cadre forest service officer’s tenure would otherwise have lasted till June 2016.

Irregularity in appointment
Nadda claimed irregularity in the appointment of Chaturvedi, just as he had done in previous letters to the health ministry under the United Progressive Alliance government. But this time around, with a National Democratic Alliance minister in charge, he asked for more. He asked Vardhan that Chaturvedi be repatriated prematurely to his parent cadre Haryana. He then demanded that the minister instead appoint Dr Vinod Paul, the head of paediatrics department, as the chief vigilance officer. The BJP general secretary did not stop at this. He asked that all investigations of corruption cases at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences be put on hold and reviewed by the minister personally. This contradicts Nadda’s statements earlier to the media that he had asked for removing Chaturvedi as a procedural issue and that the existing corruption cases under investigation at AIIMS would not be impacted.

One of the several officials named in more than two dozen corruption cases, and now being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation, is Indian Administrative Service officer Vineet Chaudhary who had served as deputy director administration at AIIMS. But, earlier he had worked as health secretary in Himachal Pradesh when Nadda was the health minister in the state.

Nadda wrote to the health minister on June 24. Soon, on July 8, the minister wrote back to Nadda and said, “I am asking secretary, health and family welfare, to take necessary action and inform you in this regard.”

Then on July 16, the minister’s office recorded that Nadda had personally met Vardhan on the matter. It ordered the health secretary, “Minister has desired that both these issues (about CVO AIIMS) may be examined and submitted for his perusal at the earliest.”

On August 8, Vardhan’s office yet again wrote an order to the health secretary, “Honorable MP (J P Nadda) met the minister in Parliament and informed that no action has been taken so far in this regard. Minister has asked that the report on the subject be submitted for his perusal immediately.”

Reacting to the building pressure from the health minister, ministry officials moved with extraordinary haste to take a complete U-turn. In 24 hours, on August 13 and 14, almost 20 officials of the ministry from the lowest post to the secretary health signed on to removing Chaturvedi from the post, which the minister approved.

Neither Vardhan nor Nadda responded to repeated requests and written queries of Business Standard over more than 24 hours.

The new record created by officials, to remove Chaturvedi, concealed relevant facts that were rather hard to miss. They had been written just a few pages below in the same file.

The new record on page 71 of the file said that Chaturvedi had been given the charge of CVO by AIIMS without the approval of the ministry. It added that the Governing Body and the Institute Body of AIIMS, according to the AIIMS Act, had not approved the posting of a full-time CVO and a response from these, asked for way back in 2011, was still awaited. The record also said the ministry had sent names of officials to the Central Vigilance Commission for selection as CVO but the ministry had been asked for three specific names for the post. That process was yet to be completed.

But the records in the same file on page 67 state completely to the contrary. They show health secretary Lov Verma rejecting the contentions of Nadda and any irregularities in the appointment of Chaturvedi, laying out reasons in details for doing so. The records note that the ministry itself had approved of Chaturvedi’s appointment not only in its internal records but also to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare. The Central Vigilance Commission had accepted Chaturvedi as the CVO and processed many of the corruption cases brought to light just as the ministry had, including those against Vineet Chaudhari, the Himachal Pradesh cadre officer who had served under Nadda in the state. Business Standard separately found that not just the CVC, Vardhan too had taken decisions on cases of corruption processed by Chaturvedi as CVO.

Contrary to the records created to remove Chaturvedi, the Standing Committee on Finance of AIIMS, according to law, discussed whether a separate post of CVO should be created in July 2010. It concluded that was not required and the deputy secretary’s post already created could also be handed over the CVO’s duties. This was duly approved by the Governing Body of AIIMS in its 144th meeting held in November 2010 chaired by the then health minister. It was ratified, according to statutory provisions of the AIIMS Act and its rules in January 2012. This is how Chaturvedi, appointed as the deputy secretary in AIIMS, was also given the charge of CVO AIIMS. All these facts noted were recorded in the same file but concealed when a fresh process to remove Chaturvedi was kick-started by the minister on the repeated implorations of Nadda. Business Standard also independently reviewed the minutes of these AIIMS bodies’ meetings to affirm the facts.

The CVC removed Chaturvedi’s name as the vigilance officer from its website only after the health ministry informed the CVC that the official had been taken off the post.

The CVC had way back in 2012 and 2013, in an exception, asked the health ministry that its approval be sought for appointing any individual as CVO. The ministry had opposed the CVC, stating that the AIIMS Act did not require such an approval. Such an approval had never been sought before Chaturvedi’s posting or after. Yet, under protestation, it did send Chaturvedi’s name along with other candidates to the CVC. The CVC did not reject Chaturvedi’s name. It was the health ministry that at first didn’t send all details while proposing Chaturvedi and other names. Then, upon repeated pleas of Nadda, triggered consistently around the same date as deepening investigations against Chaudhari, in May 2014, the ministry at the highest level concluded that all statutory requirements had been met for appointing Chaturvedi and the matter should be closed for good. But when Vardhan took over as NDA’s health minister, and Nadda demanded more than just Chaturvedi’s removal, the ministry reversed its stand.

By the time of his removal, Chaturvedi had unearthed and processed more than 75 cases of corruption and other illegalities at AIIMS, charged penalties in several and taken more serious matters through the CVC and the health ministry to the CBI. In one case against Chaudhary, the CBI has registered a preliminary inquiry. Several other cases of corruption and illegalities alleging his involvement are now under review of the CVC.

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