National Rural Health Mission scam grows murkier

Uttar Pradesh's National Rural Health Mission scam grew murkier, after another key accused, Sunil Verma, had an unnatural death.

LUCKNOW: Uttar Pradesh's National Rural Health Mission scam grew murkier, after another key accused, Sunil Verma, had an unnatural death. Verma allegedly shot himself to death on Monday. His is the fourth death related to the Rs 5,000-crore NRHM scam.

The development comes weeks before the state goes to polls and could be discomforting to chief minister Mayawati, under whose regime thousands of crores meant for the rural health were siphoned off. BJP, which had almost inducted one of the prime accused, BSP's former family welfare minister Babu Singh Kushwaha, into the party too may find the latest development inconvenient.

Sunil Verma was the project manager in the Construction and Design Services wing of the UP Jal Nigam. He is believed to have shot himself at 8.30 am on Monday and was rushed to the hospital, where he was declared 'brought dead'.

Verma was named in the first FIR filed in the scam relating to upgradation of 134 hospitals across UP for Rs 13.4 crore by Construction and Design Services, a unit of UP Jal Nigam. CBI had alleged the work was given to a Ghaziabad-based firm on the basis of bogus and forged documents and the construction was of inferior quality, causing a loss of Rs 5.46 crore to the exchequer.

An audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General had indicted the state's health and family welfare department functionaries, middlemen and contractors for allegedly guzzling Rs 5,700 crore of the Rs 8,657 crore released between 2005 and 2011 under NRHM.

This is the fourth mysterious death related to the scam, which came to light after chief medical officer Vinod Kumar Arya was killed in broad daylight on October 2010. This was followed by the killing of CMO BP Singh outside his home on April 2, 2011.

Following public outcry, the state police arrested deputy CMO YS Sachan, accusing him of involvement in the scam, but he too was found dead under mysterious circumstances in the Lucknow jail, hours before he was expected to depose in court. Later, it was revealed that this too was a murder.

Within hours of Verma's death, CBI sought a report from the Lucknow Police. CBI believes Verma had vital information on fund utilisation of the project and was the key link between ex-family welfare minister Babu Singh Kushwaha and others involved in the scam. CBI had searched Verma's residence earlier this month.

According to CBI, funds meant for construction work was swindled by a cabal comprising department officials, IAS officers and politicians in connivance with contractors and small businessmen. Medicine procurement and equipment purchased for medical centres was also riddled with corruption.

The three murders related to the rampant corruption in the implementation of the NRHM scheme led to Mayawati asking family welfare minister Kushwaha and health minister Anant Kumar Mishra to step down. Later Kushwaha, a trusted aide of Mayawati, was set to join BJP.

Party chief Nitin Gadkari put this on hold following criticism from within the BJP leadership. Kushwaha, however, has been at the forefront of BJP poll campaign in Bundelkhand.

UP chief minister Mayawati reacted to the news of Verma's death by saying that urgency shown in investigating the NRHM case made it look like a conspiracy. "This is all a political conspiracy... No matter how much damage they try to make to our party politically, they will not succeed...By their actions, they are only strengthening our chances of winning more seats in the elections," she told a news channel.

"As the victim is related to the NRHM scam which is being probed by the premier investigating agency which is also carrying out raids, CBI should probe whether it is a suicide or not," Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh said. "It is most unfortunate and we have doubts over police claims of suicide... The scam is becoming murkier. We demand CBI inquiry," he said.

SP spokesman Rajendra Chaudhary said the case should also be brought in the ambit of the CBI inquiry. "It is the fourth case and also indicates its magnitude and seriousness. If the probe continues in the right direction, it would reach the chief minister and her office," Chaudhary claimed.

But BJP chose to target Congress, wondering whether CBI was deliberately not nabbing the "major political players" in the case at the behest of the ruling party at the Centre. "Why CBI has not taken any action against major political players. Is it on Delhi's directions that main accused are being protected," BJP spokesperson Ravi S Prasad said.
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