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Harsh Vardhan orders removal of MCI anti-graft officer who sought protection

The Union health minister Harsh Vardhan has raised yet another controversy by ordering removal of the chief vigilance officer of the Medical Council of India (MCI) instead of providing him protection after he complained of harassment and threats.

This is the second decision of the minister removing an anti-graft officer. Earlier he had removed the CVO at AIIMS, acting upon the request of his senior party colleague. 

The Chief Vigilance Commission has written to the ministry demanding that the officer, who was investigating more than a dozen corruption cases at the MCI and facing harassment and threats from the council’s officials should be provided protection through the Delhi police as well all assistance that is currently being denied to him. It has also demanded that the ministry provide a report to the commission on the series of corruption cases that the officer, H K Jethi, had investigated but which had been held back by the MCI president Jayshreeben Mehta.

This is the second letter from the CVC to the health ministry on removal of chief vigilance officers from institutions under its remit. Contradicting Harsh Vardhan’s statements, the CVC, had also written earlier asking for clarification on reasons behind removing Sanjiv Chaturvedi, the anti-corruption official at AIIMS. It had done so when Chaturvedi had pleaded before CVC for investigating his removal.

Minister Harsh Vardhan had earlier publicly committed to cleaning up the Medical Council of India claiming it was a ‘big source of corruption’. MCI is the apex body in-charge of certifying and verifying the quality of medical education across hundreds of medical colleges in the country. The previous head of MCI, Ketan Desai was removed by the UPA for allegations of corruption and CBI probed cases against him. The government has also recently received notice in a petition before the Supreme Court alleging that the current MCI board, including Jayshreeben Mehta, were elected through rigging by Ketan Desai. Both are doctors from Gujarat. 

Business Standard sent detailed queries to the minister Harsh Vardhan, the ministry and Mehta, the president of MCI. The first two did not respond even after reminders. Mehta responded stating, “The allegations made by Jethi are totally incorrect and baseless.” She accused Jethi of not acting as per the rules governing the CVO and making allegations against her when she asked and the MCI council asked Jethi to work as per regulations. 

The anti-graft officer Jethi, an ordinance services official, was appointed in October 2013 under the UPA to put an end to corruption at the MCI. But by end of the year he began complaining to the ministry of ‘physical harassment in retaliation to his drive against corruption.’ In April 2014 he alleged that the President of MCI was using all kind of pressure tactics to destabilise the functioning of the vigilance division. Jethi said that ‘he felt scared of fighting against corruption alone at MCI without any support’. He requested that if nothing could be done to protect him, he should be repatriated out of MCI back to his cadre to help him work without fear.  

With Jethi repeatedly pleading for protection, the CVC also wrote to the health ministry in May 2014, just when the NDA government had taken over, asking that it investigate the harassment, rein in the MCI officials and, if need be, approach Delhi police to provide the officer protection and investigate the matter. 

With Jethi’s repeated pleas, CVC’s letter and several other complaints from others of corruption continuing in MCI rising, in July 2014, the health ministry’s vigilance wing asked CBI to carry out a ‘comprehensive investigation’ in to the mounting allegations of corruption.  They noted that the anti-graft officer of MCI had complained of being ‘forced’ by the President Mehta to write specific missives to CBI. Business Standard reviewed the draft Mehta had asked the officer to send to CBI inquiring in a specific manner about status of Ketan Desai’s cases. But Mehta denied any wrongdoing. She said she was only inquiring about the case as she was new to MCI and people were asking her for status on the CBI cases against Desai but she alleged the CVO refused to obey her orders on spurious grounds. She said, “It appears to be a clear case of refusal to carry out direction of the superior by the CVO and there was no violation of any law.” 

Then, on October 10, the health ministry suddenly made a U-turn. Instead of going to the Delhi police or taking action against MCI, it went back to Jethi’s plea of April 2014 and now decided to repatriate the anti-graft officer out of MCI. The decision had the personal approval of the health minister Harsh Vardhan. 

Mehta distanced herself and MCI from the move to repatriate the CVO and said, the officer had acted as a mere ‘postman’ and never carried out any investigations himself and merely passed on the complaints he received. She said, “Jethi is unwilling to perform his duties as the CVO and is engaging himself in an absolutely misconceived and misleading propaganda.” 

But, the CVC has now stepped in. In an order sent on October 21, it has informed the health ministry again of the victimisation threats faced by Jethi. It has pointed out that more than a dozen investigation cases that Jethi was looking into are stuck with the President of MCI, as per Jethi’s reports. It has asked that the ministry’s vigilance wing ensure Jethi gets the assistance denied to him and necessary protection through the Delhi police against the threats. Jethi being a full time anti-graft officer at MCI cannot be transferred without the approval of the CVC. 

Mehta did not comment on the actions of the CVC or the health ministry. But, said she has all the documents to justify her statements against Jethi.
 

Timeline
May 2010 Ketan Desai removed as head of MCI following arrest and charges of corruption by CBI. MCI Council superseded. UPA passes ordinance to appoint a board to govern MCI
October 2013  Ordinance service officer H K Jethi appointed as chief vigilance officer of MCI
November 2013 Through a second ordinance reconstitutes the MCI Council which elects the board. Jayshreeben Mehta is elected President
April 2014  CVO complains repeatedly of physical harassment and victimisation for pursuing corruption investigations. Asks to be relieved from post if not protected
May 2014 CVC tells health ministry to protect and support CVO. Involve Delhi police if necessary
July 2014  Health ministry vigilance asks CBI to carry out comprehensive investigations of many corruption allegations and harassment of anti-graft officer at MCI
October 10, 2014 Minister approves removal and repatriation of Jethi out of MCI as CVO
October 21, 201 CVC writes to health ministry demanding protection for CVO through police, investigations in to stalled anti-corruption investigations and reporting back to CVC on status

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