Four cases of alleged high-level corruption involving senior officials of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi have been recommended for closure by the Central Vigilance Commission in 2016-’17, in violation of regulations.

The commission is an independent body that is meant to investigate and make recommendations on cases of corruption involving central government officials. But it closed these cases going by the advice of the Union health ministry, ignoring the rules that clearly define other institutions and officials as the competent authority to shut such cases.

After conducting detailed investigations in these cases, the Central Bureau of Investigation had recommended different levels of action against the AIIMS officials. It had found that rules had been broken or there was clear evidence of corruption in all the four cases.

In one instance, even decisions of previous health ministers were overturned to close the case.

The vigilance commission also allowed one of the officials accused in these corruption cases – MC Mishra, the director of AIIMS – to sit in judgement on the performance of an officer, Sanjiv Chaturvedi, who had initiated the investigations in the first place. The deputy director of AIIMS under Mishra, Mishra himself, and the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare consequently gave a “zero rating” to Chaturvedi in January 2017 for the year 2015-’16 – the year Chaturvedi had continued to investigate allegations of corruption at AIIMS, Delhi. In 2014, Nadda, then only an MP, had asked for the closure of all these investigations and the removal of Chaturvedi as the investigating officer.

A zero rating of an All India Services officer, such as Chaturvedi, can lead to various levels of action that are detrimental to the officer’s career.

All officials accused in these cases have consistently claimed innocence. reviewed the records of these cases with the Central Vigilance Commission, CBI, AIIMS and the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The ministry did not respond to detailed queries.

The Central Vigilance Commission did not reply to specific queries and instead said, “These cases were examined in the Commission and taken to their logical conclusion at the appropriate level. Since each of the cases involves other officers, it would be inappropriate to furnish the details, keeping in view their own privacy rights and confidentiality of the reports of the various investigating agencies.”

Detailing its role and responsibilities, the commission’s response said, “The Commission exercises an independent, advisory role to the Government in respect of complaints related to corruption. As per the business rules laid down every file is seen by more than one Commissioner and thus the decisions of the Commission are joint decisions of the Commission.”

The big case

The biggest of these four cases pertains to alleged corruption and irregularities by a senior Indian Administrative Service officer, Vineet Chowdhury, along with others, in connection with an infrastructure expansion project worth more than Rs 7,000 crore at AIIMS, Delhi.

Allegations were made that in 2012, Chowdhury put an under-qualified official in charge of the expansion project after breaking the rules to extend the official’s tenure beyond his retirement.

Allegations were also made that Chowdhury had bought properties in collusion with that official near the site for a new AIIMS in Jhajjar, Haryana.

In April 2016, a worker died after scaffolding at a construction site related to this expansion project collapsed. The previous month, two labourers died after a wall caved in on the same site. The police registered a case in connection with this incident.

In 2014, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Union Health Minister at that time, reprimanded Chowdhury for misleading him to hire the official. The official was eventually removed.

In December 2014, the CBI recommended departmental action against Chowdhury in the case related to the service extension given to the official. However, it stopped short of investigating the land deals and other accusations, claiming that the ministry and AIIMS had not provided it documents to inspect.

By August 2014, the Union government changed and the incumbent health minister, Harsh Vardhan, had also agreed to chargesheet Chowdhury for these and other illegalities, recommending his dismissal from service.

However, the Central Vigilance Commission rejected the minister’s views. The commission said Harsh Vardhan had signed the orders as president of AIIMS and not as Union health minister. Under the law, the post of the president of AIIMS is always held by the Union health minister. Earlier, the vigilance commission had acted in at least one similar case of corruption of an Indian Police Service officer on a recommendation from AIIMS. But in this case it changed its stance.

JP Nadda replaced Harsh Vardhan as Union health minister in November 2014. Before joining the ministry, Nadda had repeatedly asked for the removal of vigilance officer Chaturvedi, and the suspension of all investigations, including those against Chowdhury. As Nadda took charge of the ministry, the case against Chowdhury remained pending for more than a year. Then, acknowledging accusations made before courts of his proximity to the accused, Nadda, recused himself from the case in May 2015, saying it should be resolved by the Department of Personnel and Training, which comes under the direct control of the Prime Minister’s Office.

But in June 2016, Nadda’s subordinate, the minister of state for health and family welfare, along with other officials who reported to Nadda, recommended that the case against Chowdhury be closed.

On July 1, 2016, the Central Vigilance Commission concurred, “The commission has noted the position the competent authority to initiate action against Shri Vineet Chowdhury the then deputy director, AIIMS has taken a view for not initiating any formal disciplinary action against him, as the allegations against him do not get conclusively proved. Commission has allowed the matter to rest.”

The Union health ministry closed the case in July 2016. Legally, only the Department of Personnel and Training, with the Prime Minister as the cabinet minister in charge, could have recommended closing this case.

Cases against AIIMS director

The Central Vigilance Commission recommended two other cases for closure in violation of regulations. These were against MC Mishra, the head of the AIIMS trauma centre, who took over as director of the institute in October 2013.

Mishra had been accused along with others of having illegally purchased material for the hospital’s trauma centre in June 2014. The allegations were that with Mishra’s permission officials bought material from a business run by one of his subordinate’s family members by breaking government rules.

In October 2015, the CBI found that Mishra and other officials had illegally purchased equipment worth lakhs. Oddly, instead of registering a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the CBI told the Union health ministry to take action as it deemed fit.

By then Mishra was AIIMS director. AIIMS formed a committee of Mishra’s juniors to adjudicate if he was guilty or not. They ruled that he was not. But a technical wing of the Central Vigilance Commission, just like the CBI, reiterated that illegalities had been committed. However, on June 16, the commission advised that the case against Mishra and one of his subordinate doctors be closed.

Under the AIIMS Regulations 1999, a case of vigilance against the director of AIIMS could legally have been closed only by the “Institute Body”. This body comprises the health minister, nominated Parliamentarians, senior medical and government officials.

Another case dating to May 2014 against Mishra and others related to the illegal purchase of material worth tens of lakhs of rupees on the basis of fake documents ended in almost a similar manner.

In a report in December 2014, the CBI accepted that stocks had been purchased against regulations. But it asked for further investigations into the matter by the Chief Vigilance Officer of the health ministry. Instead, Mishra constituted a committee of his subordinates to investigate. It included one of the co-accused in the AIIMS Trauma Centre corruption case. The committee gave a clean chit to Mishra and other accused. Mishra set up yet another committee headed by a retired doctor. That too gave the accused officials, including Mishra, a clean chit, asking for reforms in the future. Based on these findings, the Central Vigilance Commission again advised the closure of investigations against Mishra in September 2016. Yet again, only the Institute Body could have asked the vigilance commission to close the case.

For these three cases Chaturvedi had written to the Central Vigilance Commission in January 2016, pointing out the anomalies in the inquiries by health ministry and AIIMS and the incomplete CBI investigations. He had asked that the vigilance commission to act independently and instruct the CBI to complete its investigations into all the illegalities involved, including the purchase of land by Chowdhury and the buying of material for AIIMS from a firm belonging to an official’s family member under Mishra .

The fourth case

The fourth case, that of allegations against AC Ammini, who headed the Endocrinology Department, was again closed by the Central Vigilance Commission without following the regulations. The CBI had found gross illegalities in this case. In its report, it had recommended major penalty departmental proceedings against the doctor, which could have lead to her dismissal from service. But the Union health minister instead proposed minor penalties, which can lead to docking of pay. The Central Vigilance Commission agreed to this. And, then it also agreed to the minister’s further recommendation to drop proceedings against Ammini in entirety in May 2014. The recommendations for the closure of the case against Ammini could have only originated from the governing body of AIIMS. The governing body is a subset of the “Institute Body”, and it also has nominated Parliamentarians and select medical officials on board, besides the minister and the director of AIIMS.