Blatant in U.P.

Published : Aug 26, 2011 00:00 IST

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Y.S. Sachan, who was found dead inside the Lucknow district jail on June 22. - NANO KUMAR SINGH/PTI

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Y.S. Sachan, who was found dead inside the Lucknow district jail on June 22. - NANO KUMAR SINGH/PTI

The nexus between government officials and politicians takes corruption in Uttar Pradesh to unprecedented levels.

CORRUPTION has, for long, been accepted as a norm in the socio-political life of Uttar Pradesh. Successive governments led by parties of all hues have promoted this trend almost openly. The current Bahujan Samaj Party [BSP] government and its leadership have persisted on the same path and have, in many ways, pushed the blatancy quotient of corruption to new levels, said an office-bearer of the Uttar Pradesh IAS Officers' Association when asked to evaluate corruption in the country's most populous State. Political observer Advocate Indra Bhushan Singh says public opinion is similar to that of the bureaucrat.

One does not have to go far to see this. Walk into any government office with a small work and you will be faced with this sort of blatant approach. At the macro level, routine inspections and inquiries by investigative agencies have unravelled cases regularly, and the media have highlighted these consistently.

Not a day passes without the mention or exposure in the media of one incident of corruption or the other. But it is a moot question whether all these exposures have a corrective impact on the political and official classes, he told Frontline.

Indra Bhushan Singh's point about exposures is indeed borne out by several official and media reports. A report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in 2010 has cited as many as 68 State government departments for rampant corruption and misuse of funds. The departments the CAG has mentioned specifically are Public Works, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Sugarcane and Sugar Industries, Irrigation, Industrial Development, Social Welfare, Food and Civil Supplies, Tourism, Urban Development, and Cooperatives.

The CAG's report mentions approximately 17,500 cases. From time to time, some of these cases acquire extra prominence for a variety of reasons. These include the scale of the operation, the quantum of money misappropriated, the social or political standing of those who have violated the rules and norms and, sometimes, the coercion and violence involved, Indra Bhushan Singh said.

One case that acquired such prominence in recent times is the multi-crore National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam unearthed during a routine review by the Union government. The review pointed out that part of the Rs.8,600 crore spent on the NRHM by the State in the past five years had been misappropriated.

The review also highlighted instances of overreaching powers accrued to local health officers. The role some of them could have played in the scam has come into greater focus in the context of the mysterious death of three senior health officials in the State.

Dr Vinod Kumar Arya, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for Family Welfare in Lucknow, the State capital, was shot dead in October 2010 when he was taking a morning walk.

In April 2011, Dr B.P. Singh, another CMO for Family Welfare, was shot dead near his residence in Lucknow. In yet another case, Dr Yogendra Singh Sachan, a deputy CMO who was arrested for his alleged involvement in the embezzlement of NRHM funds, was found dead in the Lucknow district jail on June 22.

According to the State police, Dr Sachan was party to the conspiracy in the murders of Vinod Kumar Arya and B.P. Singh. The police mentioned this to the Allahabad High Court, which was hearing a plea to consider two public interest litigation (PIL) petitions seeking independent investigation into the murders and the alleged corruption in the use of NRHM funds. The High Court has ordered an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into these. The State government has accepted it.

The petitions mentioned that CMOs in Uttar Pradesh had been vested with extraordinary financial powers for the purchase of drugs as well as for awarding contracts in the districts under their jurisdiction. This, the petitions said, had promoted an unholy nexus between government officials and politicians, including Ministers, and led to the misuse and misappropriation of funds.

Sachchidanand Gupta, one of the petitioners, called for an independent investigation into the irregularities because the role of the local police and State functionaries is also absolutely doubtful and suspicious as they have been trying to shield the real offenders, who are very high and influential people. He pointed out that State government officials had created the post of CMO for Family Welfare in the Health Department around May 2010 only to divert the public monies to their own reserves.

In his petition, Gupta referred to the sequence of events leading to the creation of the new post and the devious objectives of it. According to him, on May 5 last year, the State government, in the name of better implementation of the NRHM, created the post of District Project Officer (DPO), which was equivalent to that of a Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in each district.

The government order said that CMOs of various districts were not able to send expenditure details of funds under the NRHM to the Centre in time because of excess workload and hence all the drawing and distribution rights of funds were being given to DPOs. Later, in October, the post was renamed CMO, Family Welfare, he said.

Gupta said that the officers who were found murdered Vinod Kumar Arya and B.P. Singh were CMOs of Family Welfare in Lucknow. Before the creation of the new post, the NRHM was being implemented by the CMO, Health.

Significantly, the then Union Health Secretary, K. Sujatha Rao, had said specifically in a letter to the State's Chief Secretary A.K. Gupta that the move to create the new post will not be in the interest of the implementation of NRHM.

One of the corruption cases mentioned in the Union government's audit report as well as in the PIL petitions is in connection with the release of Rs.13 crore for iron-folic acid tablets for schoolchildren by the Director General of the Family Welfare Department. In this case, the actual expenditure is said to have been only Rs.2.7 crore.

Damning allegations

The report also pointed out that as many as 620 of the 779 ambulances bought were remaining unused in warehouses. The NRHM team found that the State government had sought an additional Rs.108 crore for emergency medical transport services when it had failed to utilise nearly 80 per cent of the ambulances that had been supplied to it. Similarly, Uttar Pradesh, which has been reporting the highest number of polio cases in the country along with Bihar, had failed to spend more than 50 per cent of the Rs.366 crore allocated for eradicating polio.

According to the report, irregularities in the procurement of materials and awarding of contracts without competitive bidding were found in 11 districts. It also noted that the State and Health authorities had turned a blind eye to the gross violation of rules and regulations in relation to advance payments for projects which were yet to be completed.

There are any number of incidents like these, and a huge quantum of money is involved in all these incidents, the State IAS Officers' Association office-bearer told Frontline. Undoubtedly, this points to the unholy nexus between government officials and politicians.

At the political level, the case has already led to the resignation of State Minister for Health Anant Kumar Mishra and Minister for Family Welfare Babu Singh Kushwaha. Both resigned in April 2011.

But this by itself has not stopped or mitigated corruption in the government and in different walks of life, said Indra Bhushan Singh.

As for the investigation by the CBI, its spokesperson Dharini Mishra told the media that the agency was scrutinising the documents received from the Uttar Pradesh State police on the three cases and further actions will be taken very soon.

In its July 27 order on the PIL petitions, the Allahabad High Court asked the CBI to complete its investigation within three months.

The investigation continues to make news, but it is yet to be seen whether it will ultimately help punish the real culprits or at least minimise the corruption in the State. The track record of the State, characterised by corruption at all levels, does not promise a positive result.

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