New Delhi: At the peak of the controversy surrounding whistleblower Indian Forest Service officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi exposing major corruption in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a telephonic call to the then health minister Harsh Vardhan to discuss the issue, an RTI has revealed. The hospital administration and the Union health ministry had been pushing for Chaturvedi’s removal from the post of chief vigilance officer (CVO) at the premier medical institution at the time.
But while Chaturvedi was later divested of the charges, no action was taken against those who were indicted by him in his investigation as CVO.
PM made call to health minister
Queries filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act have revealed that Prime Minister Modi made a call to Harsh Vardhan on August 23, 2014, to discuss the issue of removing Chaturvedi from the post of the CVO at AIIMS.
“The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India had a telephonic discussion with the Hon’ble Union minister of health and family welfare regarding relieving the additional charge of CVO, AIIMS, New Delhi from Sh. Sanjiv Chaturvedi, DS, AIIMS, New Delhi. A detailed note in this regard is submitted for perusal of Hon’ble Prime Minister of India,” a letter sent by the then Union health secretary Lov Verma to principal secretary to the prime minister, Nripendra Mishra, revealed.
Subsequently, Chaturvedi had sent an exhaustive note to Modi in September 2014, disclosing details of all the cases of corruption exposed and acted upon by him in his tenure as CVO from July 2012 to August 2014. He had enclosed all the letters written by the then Rajya Sabha MP JP Nadda which demanded his removal from AIIMS and a halt to all the corruption cases investigated by him.
Nadda made minister despite allegations of supporting corruption at AIIMS
According to the RTI replies, the prime minister’s office took note of these letters and on October 8, 2014, sought a comment from the Union health secretary on Chaturvedi’s allegations. However, despite Chaturvedi highlighting Nadda’s stance on corruption at AIIMS, Modi made him the Union health minister in November 2014, which automatically made him the ex-officio president of AIIMS, and thus, Chaturvedi’s superior. This was unfair as in one of his prayers, Chaturvedi had also urged Modi to provide protection to him and to prevent further witch-hunting.
Though it appeared that the prime minister’s office was keen on pursuing Chaturvedi’s complaint and followed its note to the health secretary with a reminder on February 10, 2015, to expedite the comments, replies to other RTI queries reveal exactly the opposite.
Zero grading for Chaturvedi, a recipient of the Magsaysay award
Chaturvedi was stripped off all his responsibilities and was even awarded a ‘zero grading’ in his appraisal report in the very year he bagged the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award for exposing corruption in public life. A number of cases, including the case of work withdrawal, is still pending before the courts. One of the pending cases is the zero appraisal report case in which he succeeded in getting a stay order in September 2017. All this indicates that the government did not stand by him.
Modi made the call, but did not act
While it is not known what transpired in the conversation between Modi and Harsh Vardhan, the RTI replies reveal a level of inertia in governance. Ideally, Modi should have either taken an action against Chaturvedi in case his documents were false or Nadda should have been sacked in keeping with the much-proclaimed policy of zero tolerance against corruption.
But neither of the two options were exercised. Nadda, in fact, was given a free hand and went on to close all the major corruption cases exposed by Chaturvedi, overruling the Central Bureau of Investigation’s recommendations for action against the accused. Even the 87th report of the standing parliamentary committee tabled in August 2015 had ‘strongly deprecated’ the attitude of the health ministry in tackling corruption at AIIMS. But Modi and his office has maintained complete silence on the issue.
An intimidated bureaucracy
The RTI replies have also revealed how the bureaucracy was intimidated by the Centre to proceed against Chaturvedi. File notings of health secretary Verma, an IAS officer of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, 1978 batch, have revealed that on May 23, 2014, he had set aside all the objections raised by Nadda over the appointment of Chaturvedi as CVO, declared the controversy as closed, and lauded Chaturvedi for his integrity and performance. But file notings of August 13, 2014, reveal that after the Modi government came to power, Verma moved a proposal for Chaturvedi’s removal which was signed by around 20 officers of the health ministry within 24 hours.