The Delhi High Court on Monday asked the Centre to make clear its stand on allegations that cases of corruption at AIIMS running into several thousand crores of rupees involving senior officials, including IAS officer Vineet Chawdhary, were closed illegally by the Union Health Ministry without the approval of competent authority which in this case was the Prime Minister as the Minister-in-charge of the Department of Personnel and Training.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar issued notice on application moved by NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation and also summoned records of the cases alleged to have been unduly closed by the Health Ministry under JP Nadda.
Appearing for CPIL advocate Prashant Bhushan assisted by advocate Govind Jee told the court that the Health Ministry has closed cases against former AIIMS Director M C Mishra and let off former AIIMS Deputy Director Vineet Chawdhary, who is now serving as the Chief Secretary to the Himachal Pradesh government, in over Rs 6,000 crore corruption cases with mere caution.
They also argued that earlier the records of the cases were mischievously destroyed in fire at AIIMS in 2015 with an attempt to destroy sensitive information about corruption cases and now the cases have been closed with mere caution to Chawdhary without the Prime Minister in the loop even when Chawdhary is an IAS officer on Central deputation.
Chawdhary had been charged for his alleged role in the enormous cases of corruption like the purchase of livery items, grant of construction contract unearthed by IFS officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi during his deputation to AIIMS as the Chief Vigilance Officer.
The CPIL in its application says the Health Ministry under JP Nadda had recommended the closure even when for IAS officers working on central deputation, Prime Minister as minister-in-charge of DoPT is competent disciplinary authority.
“It is apparent from the closure of corruption cases of Mr. Vineet Chawdhary and Dr. MC Mishra, by Union Health Ministry without even the matter being referred for consideration of competent disciplinary authority as per statute that no fair decision is being taken in respect of these cases under the influence of the Respondent No.3.(Health Minister JP Nadda),” the CPIL said.
The application has been filed in the petition seeking an expeditious investigation into various cases of corruption and massive irregularities in AIIMS, country’s’ premier medical institution, and recusal of JP Nadda from the decision-making process in these matters due to his alleged role in influencing the probe in these cases.
CPIL had filed the main petition since the cases had become stagnant with the probe making no headway. The NGO had apprehended that attempts were being made to brush everything under the carpet.
In its latest application, the CPIL said its apprehension has been proved right as the “Union Health Ministry, headed by JP Nadda, in connivance with Central Vigilance Commission has closed two major cases of disciplinary proceedings against Vineet Chawdhary who had worked as Dy. Director (Admn) in the institute from year 2010-12 and was very close to Nadda, having earlier worked with him as health secretary in Himachal Pradesh in year 2002-03 when Mr. JP Nadda was Health Minister of the State”.
Chawdhary had been accused of financial irregularities and corruption in work of engineering wing in projects of around Rs. 6,000, irregular appointment and payment of huge amount to so-called consultants; getting radiotherapy of his dog done at cancer center of AIIMS; making the file of creation of the post of CVO disappear from his office; heavy misuse of official vehicle etc.
The illegalities were highlighted by Chaturvedi from 2012 to 2014 during his tenure as AIIMS CVO. Chaturvedi is now posted as the Conservator of Forest at Haldwani in Uttarakhand.
Chawdhary has denied all charges while stating that the records show that no dog was ever treated at the cancer centre, that he made no irregular appointment and the office was renovated by a PSU of the Health Ministry and did not accrue any personal benefit to him.
Chawdhary along with others was charged by Chaturvedi for poor quality of construction in the convergence block, underground parking etc.
While the Health Ministry gave him an easy exit from all charges, the parking collapsed within two months of its inauguration and the blocks of convergence building keep chipping.
It is to be noted here that the Health Ministry had sent a report to the CVC with remarks on all charges levelled on Chawdhary in the draft charge sheet prepared by Vigilance Cell of AIIMS.
On some charges, he has been let off with caution for being careful in future, while some matters have been allowed to rest by holding that no financial loss was caused to AIIMS due to the alleged wrongful acts.
“(then) Union Health Minister Gulam Nabi Azad had approved departmental proceedings against. Vineet Chawdhary in May 2014 on the charges of financial irregularities in purchase of livery items of more than Rs. 1 crore. However, the said case has been closed by Union Health Ministry by a mere ‘caution’. This is brazen violation of rule position which provides that for IAS officers working on central deputation, Prime Minister as minister-in-charge of DoPT is competent disciplinary authority,” said CPIL in its application filed on Thursday.
The NGO said in the same matter, the case was wrongly closed against Shailesh Yadav, IPS, the then Deputy Director (Admin), by Health Ministry, though his competent disciplinary authority, as per DoPT instruction is Ministry of Home Affairs.
It claimed that another case against Yadav of financial irregularity in awarding tender to a security agency is also being attempted to be closed, though CBI had registered FIR in this case in 2013 and the CVC had approved major penalty disciplinary proceedings in May 2014.
The CPIL said: “cases of corruption of Trauma Centre and surgery department involving former AIIMS Director M C Mishra were closed by CVC in June, 2017 and September, 2016 on the basis of recommendations of Union Health Ministry even when the competent disciplinary authority in case of Director, AIIMS is Institute Body, before which the matter was never deliberated. The case was closed by CVC despite strong objection of Chief Technical Examiner (CTE) of CVC itself”.
It prayed the court to “summon records of the closure of these cases, without the approval of competent disciplinary authority and to direct Respondent No. 1 for immediately referring these cases to the competent disciplinary authority for passing well reasoned/ speaking orders”.