BHOPAL: A whistleblower for a decade now, Dr Anand Rai has learnt to keep his chin up in the face of pressure and intimidation from the white-collar criminals he has sought to expose. The Indore-based medical officer has received innumerable threats over the years and lives today under police protection provided to him by the Madhya Pradesh government on the High Court’s orders.
Today, though, the crusader is finally worried – not so much for himself as for his doctor-wife and their two-and-half-year-old daughter. On July 19, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government transferred Rai – the first whistleblower in the Vyapam scam -from Indore to Dhar, further west in the Malwa plateau. Two weeks ago, his wife, a gynaecologist, was shifted from Mhow, a suburb of Indore, to Ujjain.
The health department issued a transfer order on a holiday, cancelling Rai’s attachment in the regional health and welfare training centre, Indore. Four years ago, he was posted as medical officer in Dhar district hospital but, soon after the posting, the department acceded to his request to attach him to the Indore training centre so that he could be with his wife Gauri Rai.
“Now in the middle of training at the centre, I am being shifted back to Dhar,” shrugs Rai, who blew the first whistle in July 2013 in the Vyapam scam that involves dubious medical admissions and job recruitments involving politicians, senior officials and businessmen. “The health department says I am not the only doctor whose attachment has been cancelled. This is a lie.”
He says the way he has been “singled out for harassment” in the name of transfer “clearly reeks” of the Chouhan government’s “vicious vendetta”.
According to Rai, the Chief Minister “specifically instructed” health secretary Gauri Singh to issue his transfer order before leaving for Delhi on Sunday (July 19) afternoon”. Vowing to fight against the action, he says, “I am not going to take it lying down. I will move the High Court against the order.”
Rai says he had a foretaste of trouble coming his way in the veiled threats of BJP spokespersons during TV debates on Vyapam recently.
“My co-panellists Sambit Patra and GVL Narasimha Rao (both from the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party) would subtly threaten me. One of them would accuse me of being a murderer. Another would angrily ask how I, a government doctor, dared to embarrass the establishment on the issue,” he recalls. “These were open and direct threats. Of course, there have been lots of indirect threats to me to keep my mouth shut ever since I blew the whistle over Vyapam.”
The scam gained its name from the Hindi acronym for the Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal – a Madhya Pradesh government-incorporated, self-financed and autonomous body tasked with conducting several entrance tests in the state.
The transfer is the second blow for Rai in a fortnight. In the first week of this month, the health department suspended his wife, who was posted as a doctor in Mhow hospital, for having availed child-care leave. When she threatened to move the court against the action, the government quickly revoked her suspension, but transferred her to Ujjain.
“Now we are worried about our toddler daughter,” says Rai. “I fail to understand why the government is punishing my wife and child for my boldness in exposing the rot in the medical education. What is the government trying to prove by transferring me?”
Rai says he knew life was not going to be easy for him when, in 2005, he first exposed unethical clinical drug trials by unscrupulous doctors of Indore’s Mahatma Gandhi memorial medical college. He was all alone in the fight against a powerful lobby of medical experts who had no qualms in treating poor, gullible patients as guinea pigs on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. Predictably, they ganged up against Rai.
“They (the doctor’s lobby) would threaten me — sometimes subtly, sometimes directly,” he recalls. “Initially I was scared, but, by and by, I learned to live with threats.”
Today, Rai anticipates more trouble as the Supreme Court is seized of a joint petition seeking a CBI probe into the rigging of the Dental and Medical Admission Test (DMAT) for 1,500 admissions in the state’s six private medical and 16 private dental colleges. The state’s medical and dental college owners comprise a far more powerful lobby than the doctors involved in the drug trials.
Rai, who is one of the three petitioners, claims the DMAT scam involves transactions worth more than Rs 10,000 crore since the test began in 2006. Going by scale, it is bigger than the Vyapam, which has led to 2,000 arrests amid the ‘mysterious’ deaths of 40-odd people ‘related’ to the multi-crore rip-off. On July 16, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Union government and the Madhya Pradesh government on the whistleblowers’ petition. While hearing the petition, the apex court said the DMAT scam “seems worse” than the Vyapam.
“There is a clear link between the corruption in Vyapam and DMAT,” says Rai. “The same solvers who would impersonate for candidates in Vyapam also filled in seats in private colleges, but later surrendered the seats which were then sold.”
If the DMAT scam also comes under the purview of the CBI probe into Vyapam, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government’s troubles are sure to mount. The tenacity with which the whistleblowers are pursuing the DMAT case after having succeeded in bringing the Vyapam scam under a CBI probe has further rattled the embattled state government. The transfers of Rai and his wife are being viewed as a desperate move to gag the whistleblowers.
Years of living dangerously
Rai, however, is unfazed. “If the government thinks it can browbeat me into silence, it is sorely mistaken. My fight against the corrupt medical education system in Madhya Pradesh is not new,” he says, recalling that he had raised an alarm about irregularities in medical education way back in 1993 when the zoology paper he attempted in the Pre-Medical Test was leaked in Gwalior. “My subsequent involvement in student politics and participation in exposing graft cases prepared me to face threats and harassments with courage.”
Ironically, Rai has been associated with the rightwing Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) since 2005. He was an office-bearer of the Sangh-affiliated doctor’s cell. But he feels let down by the Hindutva organisation.
“If the Sangh can stand up for (terror-accused) Pragya Singh Thakur who has brought public disgrace to the organisation, then why did it abandon me when I was exposing Vyapam,” he asks.
After he blew the lid off Vyapam, the RSS not only disowned him but withheld the 2012-13 Nanaji Deshmukh award for social service, named after the RSS ideologue, for which Rai was recommended. “The RSS claims to fight for corruption, but till now has (its chief) Mohan Bhagwat said a word on Vyapam?” Rai asks.
Incidentally, the RSS ‘renegade’ found a useful weapon for his fight against corruption in the Congress party’s pet project, the Right To Information (RTI) Act. He has filed more than 1,000 RTI applications, including those concerning the mess in drug trials to expose corruption in the state’s medical education sector.
Rai says he had sensed the rot in the medical education in 2005 when he was pursuing post-graduation in the MGM College, Indore. He discovered that the students who figured among the top ten in the entrance exam hardly had any knowledge of the subject. All of them were from affluent families and lived in a common block of the college hostel. However, he thought he was too junior to expose the PMT rigging at that time and, therefore, kept quiet. Four years later, he could not keep quiet when he learnt that some PMT papers were about to be leaked.
“I immediately tipped off the Indore crime branch. A case was registered. Later, I filed complaints in similar cases involving impersonators from other states who appeared in the pre medical test on behalf of candidates. Since then my fight has continued.”
When Rai exposed the unethical drug trials that were going on in the state, his campaign created a stir across Madhya Pradesh and even in the national media. However, far from taking action against the unscrupulous medical experts involved in the clinical trials, the state government apparently sought to shield them.
Rai mounted pressure on the government for action by disclosing more and more shocking facts related to the trials. The RTI route came handy in the fight. Eventually, Supreme Court intervention forced the Union Health Ministry and the Madhya Pradesh government to take remedial measures.
Stung by his expose, the state government terminated Rai’s services in August 2010. He was then a junior doctor attached to the Maharaja Yashvant Rao hospital of the MGM Medical College, Indore.
A strike by the Madhya Pradesh Junior Doctors Association was used as a “ruse” for his termination, says Rai, who was one of the patrons of the body whose other functionaries were suspended for striking work. Their suspension was revoked after a while, but Rai’s termination stayed.
At this, he moved the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The court in November 2010 quashed the termination order, asking the government to reinstate him immediately. The government ignored the verdict, following which Rai moved a contempt petition. The court slapped a fine of Rs 5,000 for contempt of court. Even so, the government did not reinstate him.
Then, in 2011, Rai cleared the Madhya Pradesh Public Service Commission test and became a medical officer. He was posted to Dhar but was later attached to a training centre in Indore.
The state government seems to have realised it was a mistake allowing Dr Anand Rai to stay in Indore