Lucknow: Troubles have mounted for beleaguered senior bureaucrat Amit Mohan Prasad as he is under scanner from two fronts, including from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) which has asked the Uttar Pradesh government to look into allegations of not releasing payment for government projects being handled by a private group.
On the second front, the Lokayukta office has asked Prasad, the additional chief secretary (medical health and family welfare), to submit a document with “factual, coherent and logical clarification” regarding the alleged purchase of “substandard” Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) and other medical equipment during the first wave of Covid pandemic.
Also, a court has asked Prasad to respond to a notice in connection with a contempt petition filed by an ex-Lucknow chief medical officer (CMO) who was suspended for his alleged involvement in the 2011 National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam.
Considered as one of the most influential bureaucrats in Uttar Pradesh, Prasad has earlier served in various capacities, including the chief executive officer of Noida-Greater Noida authorities. The 1989 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer has been handling the medical and health department since January 2020.
Prasad has been in the eye of storm ever since Deputy Chief Minister Brajesh Pathak, who also looks after the medical and health portfolio, in the first week of July expressed displeasure on alleged irregularities in the transfer of doctors during his absence.
PMO takes cognisance of plaint
The PMO went ahead with its decision after receiving a nine-page complaint from Mahesh Chandra Srivastava, who identifies himself as the legal consultant of R Cube Group, on the public grievances portal of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions.
In the 27 June complaint accessed by ThePrint, Srivastava claimed that R Cube Healthcare Industries Private Limited and R Cube Fire Protection Services Private Limited have either completed or are in the process of completing work on life -saving and -protecting systems such as central gas pipeline, modular OT in 13 government hospitals and several community health centres across 16 districts of the state.
Srivastava’s wife and daughter are the directors of R Cube Healthcare Industries Private Limited and R Cube Fire Protection Services Private Limited, respectively.
He alleged that while work being undertaken by agencies like Construction and Design Services (under the UP Jal Nigam), Global Sale (under the UP Housing and Development Board) and the UP State Construction and Labour Development Federation Limited was allotted to the R Cube Group via tender, the government has not yet released money for the next instalments of several projects due to Prasad’s “hostility”.
“Also, work on several of the projects has already been completed but due to pressure from Prasad, the administration of the facilities including Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Civil hospital, Lucknow and Bhaurao Devras Civil hospital, Lucknow is not taking the handover of the facility — central sterilisation supply department and modular OT,” the complaint read.
It alleged payment amounting Rs 35.84 crore, which were part of the second or pending instalments, were yet to be released by the government to the agencies concerned.
Taking cognisance of the letter, the PMO wrote to Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary Durga Shankar Mishra, stating that the complaint is being forwarded “for action as appropriate.” “Reply may be sent to the petitioner and a copy of the same may be uploaded on the portal,” read the PMO letter, a copy of which is with ThePrint.
Additional chief secretary, information, Navneet Sehgal told ThePrint that the government had received the note from the PMO. “It (the complaint) will be checked,” he said.
Srivastava once faced nine cases in Lucknow, according to a report. In 2013, a team of Hyderabad Police had reached the state capital in connection with its probe into an alleged fraud case. Asked about his dark past, Srivastava claimed the cases were “settled” now.
Lokayukta seeks Prasad’s reply
Lokayukta secretary Anil Kumar Singh wrote to Prasad on July 14 after Rajesh Khanna, a complainant, complained to the ombudsman alleging corruption in the purchases made by the UP Medical Supplies Corporation.
Speaking to ThePrint, Khanna identified himself as an RTI activist, social worker as well as a BJP worker.
The complainant accused Prasad of favouring three companies in tendering process which allegedly got the contract for supplying reagents “without issuance of tender by UP’s chief medical store depot”.
The Print has a copy of the complaint.
In April 2020, the then director-general of medical education had written to two dozen medical colleges not to use ‘substandard’ and ‘faulty’ PPE kits. As the letter went viral, the Uttar Pradesh government had ordered a probe by the Special Task Force into the leak of the D-G’s letter. Later, the government had claimed that there were no irregularities in purchase of PPE kits.
Srivastava, meanwhile, also highlighted the purchase of ventilators meant for children and other equipment in hospitals like Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences and Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences (both in Lucknow) allegedly at inflated rates during the third wave of Covid.
When contacted about the complaint and the allegations, Prasad sent a text message: “The replies will be provided at the right fora. I don’t think talking to media on sub-judice matters is the correct thing to do.”
Contempt petition against babu
In another worry for Prasad, a Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court issued a notice on July 21 asking him why he should not be punished for “willful and deliberate disobedience” of its December 10, 2020 order.
The court asked him to be present on August 18, the next date of hearing, in the case pertaining to a writ petition filed by former Lucknow CMO Dr Anil Kumar Shukla, who alleged non-compliance of an interim order (December 18, 2020) that any pending payment of his suspension period be given to him.
Shukla was suspended on July 13, 2011 in connection with the NRHM scam. He then retired in October 2012. One of the main accused in the case, Shukla was briefly arrested in connection with the scam and conspiracy to kill two CMOs.
Shukla’s advocate Pranshu Agrawal told ThePrint that his client was not given the subsistence allowance as mandated by the state’s rules.
“No decision was taken by the government till 2016. Neither was any information shared with the complainant. The government finally informed Shukla in an RTI response that the matter was pending. In 2020, the high court directed the government to either pay the allowance to Shukla or give him in writing the reasons for denying the allowance. But no action was taken,” he said.
In 2021, Shukla filed a contempt petition. “Later, it came to fore that the government decided not to pay the allowance on August 10, 2021 but the message was not communicated through an affidavit to the court. Now, on July 6, after direction from the court, the state sought time to reply. On July 18, the government informed the petitioner that it had decided not to disburse his allowance.”
The sensational scam, which shook the Mayawati government in 2011, had taken a series of murky turns with suspicious deaths of seven persons, including back-to-back murders of CMOs Dr Vinod Arya and Dr B. P. Singh.
(This report has been updated with revised quote of additional chief secretary, information, Navneet Sehgal)
(Edited by Tony Rai)