Political parties use rural health mission scam stick to beat Mayawati government

Bahujan Samaj Party leader defiant blames UPA for the mess

By Biswajeet Banerjee
Published: Thursday 09 February 2012

It’s election time in Uttar Pradesh and the state is at the centre of a massive corruption scam involving the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) funds. The scam has given an opportunity to opposition parties to blame the Bahujan Samaj Party government in the state and gain political mileage out of it.
Three senior medical officers heading the mission, including the main accused Y S Sachan are already dead. While the body of Sachan was found hanging in the toilet of the Lucknow district jail on June 22 last year, a day before he was to depose before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, the other two, Vinod Arya and B P Singh, were killed by unidentified assailants.

“The death of my brother had created a political furore. Leaders of all the major parties like the Samajwadi Party, the BJP and the Congress came at our residence to share our grief. I believe their visits had a political overtone, and do not mind that. What my family wants is that the leaders and the government that perpetrated this crime should not go scot free,” says R S Sachan, brother of Y S Sachan. He adds, “The CBI wants more clarifications. More arrests are likely to be made soon. This time the agency might net some big fish.”

War of words

Political parties of all hues refer to the scam in their public speeches. In a state which is bereft of health services and where people die of curable diseases like cholera, malaria and even measles, this scam of almost Rs 5,000 crore finds echo in speeches of all the leaders.
“Our government had sent Rs 8,000 crore for streamlining health services. Over Rs 5,000 crore was embezzled by ministers and officials. With this money they built their own statues in Lucknow and Noida,” said Rahul Gandhi said while addressing a rally in Gorakphur. “We had sent money to fight encephalitis in this region. This money was eaten up by the elephant sitting in Lucknow,” he added referring to the endemic encephalitis that claimed lives of many children in the eastern part of the state.

Congress party’s general secretary Digvijay Singh said that in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-caste society, caste plays an important factor in elections. But the scam of this magnitude has forced people to break the shackles of politics of caste and communalism. This is the time for change in Uttar Pradesh, he said.

Other parties are also speaking in the same vein. Former Bharatiya Janta Party national president Rajnath Singh told people in a rally at Gonda: “Do you know there is a scheme called the National Rural Health Mission. This scheme aims at providing quality health facilities at the village level. But the Mayawati government has usurped all this money, depriving you of better health facilities including well furnished hospitals. We are not saying this. This is revealed by an audit agency named the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.”

People listen to him with rapt attention and applaud as and when he uses the words ghotala (scam). But they a few questions for the BJP leaders, too.

Ram Surat Verma, gram pradhan of Mihipurwan village in Bahraich district, says, “If BJP is so averse to this NRHM ghotala, why they have brought the main player in this scam, Babu Singh Kushwaha, into the party fold after he was sacked by Mayawati. Before, making NRHM scam a political issue, they should have thought twice about the Kushwaha factor and how it can boomerang.”

BJP does not have an answer to this plain-speak.

Babu Singh Kushwaha on his part blames chief minister Mayawati, saying she was heading the department of family welfare before he took over. “The NRHM scheme started in UP in 2005-06. At that time Mulayam Singh Yadav was the chief minister. In May 2007, BSP came to power and charge of the department was with Mayawati. I was the family welfare minister from May 2009 to April 2011. Why only my name is being dragged into this controversy and others have been allowed to go scot free?” he asks.

How the scam came to forefront

National Rural Health Mission was launched in April 2005 to provide accessible, affordable, accountable and reliable healthcare facilities to people. It was funded by the Centre and Uttar Pradesh in the ratio of 85:15, and the goals were to be achieved under the aegis of state health mission headed by the chief minister. In a dramatic turn of events in Uttar Pradesh, the health department was bifurcated into the department of family welfare and department of medical and health in 2009. The latter dealt with administrative work of hospitals and staff while the former took charge of NRHM. There were two cabinet rank ministers with health portfolio –Anant Kumar Mishra, heading ministry of medical and health and Babu Singh Kushwaha, heading ministry of family welfare.

All hell broke loose when on one fine morning of October 27, 2010,  Vinod Arya, heading family welfare department was shot dead by two motorcycle-borne assailants. Murmurs of corruption in this scheme were heard for the first time in the corridors of power. For the next four months, no one was ready to take charge as CMO. Y S Sachan, who was deputy CMO, was made the ad hoc in-charge. In March 2011, B P Singh took charge as CMO and April 2, 2011 he too was shot dead when he was returning home from a morning walk.

Both the ministers–Mishra and Kushwaha resigned on moral grounds. A CBI probe was ordered and CAG was also asked to audit accounts. In its report on January 21, CAG pointed out financial irregularities to the tune of Rs 5,755.45 crore in NRHM between April 1, 2005 and March 31, 2011.

The CAG findings point that despite the state receiving the highest allocation of NRHM funds (Rs 8,657.35 crore), the health indicators were poor with maternal mortality rate being the highest and infant mortality and total fertility rates being second highest compared to eight major populous states of the country. The report also mentions that due to weak programme implementation, unutilised funds continued to increase and stood at Rs 1,364.89 crore at the end of March 2010 and this deprived the state of further central assistance of Rs 124.55 crore.

This report gave the opposition parties a stick to beat the BSP. The election meetings started finding mentions of CAG report. Trying to wriggle out of the vexing situation, Mayawati put the blame on UPA. Kicking off her party’s election campaign from Sitapur (UP), 80 km from Lucknow, Mayawati said NRHM was monitored by officials from the Central government. “At least 12 national missions, comprising senior bureaucrats from Government of India, made inspection visits to UP. They did not find any fault in implementation in the programme. If now CAG says money has been squandered, punish these officials also. Why everyone is blaming officials of UP Government?” she asked.

Mayawati even played the dalit card saying because dalit ki beti is heading a government in UP, casteist party like Congress was not able to digest the fact and was levelling false allegations against her government.

Her supporters believe every word she speaks. Ram Payari, a dalit from Laharapur attended public meetings addressed by Mayawati said, “Allegations of corruption against Mayawati were false. Suppose she made money, what’s wrong in that. All political parties and leaders make money,” she said.

What the CAG report says

The CAG's Performance Audit Report of National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) shows a scam of Rs 5,755.45 crore between April 1, 2005 and March 31, 2011

The CAG findings point that despite the State receiving the highest allocation of NRHM funds (Rs 8,657.35 crore), the health indicators of the state were poor with maternal mortality rate being the highest and infant mortality and total fertility rates being second highest compared to eight major populous states of the country

The report also mentions that due to weak programme implementation, unutilised funds continued to increase and stood at Rs 1364.89 crore at the end ofMarch 2010 and this deprived the state of further Central assistance of Rs 124.55 crore

Hundred per cent funds were released to construction agencies (UP Processing and Construction Co-operative Federation or PACCFED received Rs 203.78 crore during 2009-2010 and UP Jal Nigam was given Rs 38.57 crore in the same period without obtaining detailed estimates and utilisation certificates

CAG pointed out that quality control of NRHM works were not ensured by either the government or by construction agencies. Constructions worth Rs 9.48 crore, test checked in Agra revealed wide variations in costs on labour and material along with use of inferior bricks

Release of funds was characterised by diluted responsibility. State Health Societies (SHS), instead of releasing funds directly to the executive agencies, released Rs 1,546.09 crore through Programme Management Society (PMS) which is an unregistered society under the Director General of National Programme Monitoring and Evaluation (DGNPME). CAG commented that this was an unauthorised agency introduced by the State government in violations of NRHM framework

There was involvement of only one Principal Secretary level officer in the decision making body of SHS for high value contracts. Procurement Cell within SPMU was not constituted and technical directorates became procurement agents. The executive committee released Rs 375.31 crore during 2008-11 to DGNPME for procurement of goods and services. The directorate released Rs 65.99 crore to Uttar Pradesh Small Industries Corporation (UPSIC), Rs 563.47 crore to PACCFED, Rs 286.71 crore to Uttar Pradesh Project Corporation Limited (UPPCL), Rs 51.56 crore to Jal Nigam, Rs 45.37 crore to Labour and Construction Co-operative Federation (LACCFED), Rs 9.15 crore to National Consumer Co-operative Federation (NCCF), but the CAG report pointed that the above agencies produced goods and services through a process which was not in consonance with the open tendering and NRHM framework

A random check in just four districts showed a bungling of Rs 22 lakh in the payment made to pregnant women under Janani Suraksha Yojna. Similarly a payment of Rs 73.60 lakh in just seven districts was found to be made to other than to the beneficiaries who adopted limited methods of family planning

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