Chandigarh, May 24
Even before Vijay Singla took oath as a Cabinet Minister on March 19, his “agents” were already active in the corridors of power. Two sharp IAS officers around him ended up being his nemesis.
With health being one of the primary focus areas of the Aam Aadmi Party, the newly formed government was concerned about bringing in good officers to the department. However, the minister was seen trying to “sideline” honest officials in postings and protecting “corrupt” ones posted in the Directorate of Health and Punjab Health Systems Corporation.
Soon, divisions surfaced between two IAS officers on one side and the minister’s “coterie” on the other, including his relatives and friends.
But business as usual allegedly started with “transfer against one salary”, fixed percentage of “kickbacks” in procurement, “monthly cuts” from senior health functionaries, deals with de-addiction centres, etc. Murmurs were in the air that in the Health Department, nothing is going to change, with a well-meaning officer once saying: “People of Punjab have been deceived yet again.”
The situation was such that a minister’s close relative, the biggest player in the de-addiction business in the state, was allegedly the point person for the minister when it came to rehab business, which runs into hundreds of crores.
In the first week of April, it was a known fact that a “deal” had been struck with private de-addiction centres and buprenorphine, used to treat opioid use disorder, would be pushed even more.
Soon it became an open secret that there was huge corruption in the Rs 198 crore allocated by the Government of India to Punjab in the emergency response and health system package.
The Tribune had carried stories on the procurement scam in these funds allegedly by officials of the Punjab Health Systems Corporation during the previous government. Singla not only pushed the scams of the previous government under the carpet, but was also seen protecting officials responsible. In his defence, he would patently say “we do not want to start on a negative note”. “When it comes to corruption, there can be a grey area. Either you punish the corrupt or protect them,” an officer said.
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