The worsening situation of the coronavirus pandemic in the country has not deterred politicians from Andhra Pradesh from continuing to pursue what they are best at: Vendetta politics.
The arrest of former Telugu Desam Party (TDP) minister K Atchan Naidu, a close aide of former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, in an alleged corruption case is largely seen as yet another instance of revenge politics. The case pertains to a scam that had allegedly occurred in 2016 when Naidu was the labour minister.
Atchan Naidu, who is also the deputy floor leader of the opposition party in the state assembly, was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) sleuths from his native village, Nimmada, in Srikakulam district on Friday (June 12).
The arrest was in connection with an Employment State Insurance (ESI)-linked scam involving ESI-affiliated hospitals, dispensaries, and diagnostic centres.
The next day, another former TDP legislator J C Prabhakar Reddy and his son J C Asmith Reddy were arrested in Hyderabad. The father-son duo run transport business. They have been accused of tampering with vehicle registration rules and fabricating documents.
Prabhakar Reddy, who represented Tadipatri assembly constituency in Anantapur district till last year, is the younger brother of another senior TDP leader and former MP J C Diwakar Reddy. They are popularly known as “JC Brothers” and run the transport business, called Diwakar Travels and JC Travels, having presence across the country.
The state transport officials seized 154 buses, belonging to JC Travels, which were allegedly bought by the accused from the Hinduja Group-owned Ashok Leyland as scrap and operated as commercial bus service in Anantapur district.
Target TDP mission
Soon after coming to power in May last year, Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy had ordered a probe into “all controversial dealings and contracts” awarded by the previous TDP regime.
What followed was a string of arrests of the opposition leaders and foisting of corruption cases against them. Things came to such a pass that a senior TDP leader and former speaker of the assembly Dr K Sivaprasada Rao committed suicide in September last year after corruption cases were filed against him and his family members.
The suicide by Dr Rao, a six-time legislator who had served in the cabinets of NTR and Chandrababu Naidu in past, had evoked widespread outrage with the TDP saying it was a result of vendetta politics being pursued by the ruling YSR Congress party. The septuagenarian leader took the extreme step because he was depressed over the false cases foisted against him and his kin, the TDP has claimed.
As part of a blanket probe into the key decisions of the previous regime, the ACB has now unearthed the alleged irregularities in the procurement of medicines for ESI hospitals.
What is ESI scam?
According to the ACB, irregularities were found mainly in the purchase of lab kits, surgical items, furniture, and other services for four ESI hospitals, three diagnostic centers and 78 ESI dispensaries across the state, violating government norms.
It is alleged that Atchan Naidu, who was then the labour and employment minister, had issued orders to the Insurance Medical Services (IMS), which implements the ESI scheme, to enter into an MoU with a firm named M/s Tele Health Services Pvt. Ltd, to set up ECG centres at ESI hospitals and dispensaries.
As per his orders, the MoU was allegedly signed without calling for open tenders, and awarded to Hyderabad-based Tele Health Services at hiked rates. The note had also alleged that the firm was eventually found to have committed many irregularities while providing the services as per the MoU.
The main accusation is that three former directors of IMS made purchases from firms which were not empanelled with the government or Non-Rate Contract firms. They are accused of fabricating quotations from Non-Rate Contract firms and paying excess rates, sometimes as high as 36 per cent. The purchases were made from Non-Contract Rate firms without calling for tenders and excess amount was paid without negotiating the rates properly.
If the directors had purchased the drugs with Rate Contract firms, they would have saved ₹51.02 crore, the ACB said.
The firm was paid ₹7.96 crore without proper verification. It was hired to provide toll free services and ECG services on nomination basis.
The IMS directors, Dr C K Ramesh Kumar and Dr G Vijaya Kumar paid ₹4.15 cr for toll free services and ₹3.81 cr for ECG Services, though the service provider violated the terms and conditions of the MoU.
During the five years of TDP rule between 2014 and 2019, the purchase orders for procurement of drugs, medical equipment, surgical items, lab kits and furniture worth ₹975.79 crore were issued by violating procedures and guidelines. The orders were issued without constituting Drug Procurement Committees and without calling for open tenders.
Denying the corruption charges, Atchan Naidu said, “At an official review meeting, it was decided that since tele-health services were already being provided in Telangana, we must follow the same. I wrote a letter asking the Director of IMS to implement tele-health services in Andhra Pradesh as it is being done in Telangana.”
Meanwhile, in the ‘transport scam’ allegedly involving the ‘JC Brothers’, the Road Transport Authority (RTA) officials have seized 62 vehicles belonging to JC Travels and another 39 are likely to be confiscated soon.
“We have filed 27 FIRs in Anantapur and three in Kurnool against the ‘JC Brothers’. We have also written to the Centre to blacklist these vehicles and give instructions to all the states to seize these buses wherever they are being operated,” the state joint transport commissioner Prasada Rao said.