Why Yogi govt is dragging its feet over CBI probe in Ayush scam?

The Yogi-led UP government’s anti-corruption plank suffers a blow as it braces to challenge the Allahabad High Court directive to the CBI to probe the role of former Ayush Minister Dharam Singh Saini others in the massive Ayush admission scam, writes Mudit Mathur

A single judge Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, Justice Rajeev Singh, ordered the Director, CBI, to register a case and investigate the role of former Ayush Minister Dharam Singh Saini and the then Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) of the Ayush department, Prashant Trivedi, along with others after their names surfaced during the STF investigations exposing allegations of politico–bureaucratic nexus relating to massive fraud and high-level corruption in the corridors of power. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has always preached “zero tolerance” for crime and corruption, but the Ayush admission scam appears to have dealt a blow to the UP government’s clean image and its anti-corruption plank.

However, surprisingly, the Uttar Pradesh government has decided to oppose the CBI investigation and decided to challenge the High Court order in the Supreme Court. The CBI is yet to register a case in the matter. The serious allegations for investigation surfaced against 1989 batch IAS officer, Prashant Trivedi at the fag-end of his unblemished career, just a month before his retirement. The unexpected development has triggered a panic among the top bureaucracy of the Yogi government. Soon after the court’s orders, Trivedi was divested of  the important charge of Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) and was posted as chairman, UPSRTC.

Initially, when the scam came to light last year, the state government on November 8th, referred the Ayush admission anomalies scam for a CBI probe looking into its nation-wide ramifications. An official spokesperson had then revealed, “Following the orders from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the case of anomalies in Ayush colleges admission has been referred to the CBI.”  Now, a sudden change of stance of the government has deeply puzzled the political circles.

While granting bail to one of the 16 accused persons arrested following the investigation by the Special Task Force, which was formed to probe the matter, the High Court Bench took cognizance of the testimony of Dr  Umakant, officer-in-charge of Ayurveda Directorate who was later inducted into Counselling Board, recorded under Section 161 Cr.P.C. in the present case. The court directed the CBI to conduct an investigation with regard to the revelations made by Dr Umakant about mal-practices adopted in the admission process of UG and PG courses in Ayush Department, in the year 2019. The case diary no. 20 highlighted high-level corruption and gross injustice to those candidates who actually succeeded in the NEET 2019 and 2022.

Following is the testimony of Dr Umakant during STF investigations:
“Question: Kuldeep Singh Verma (whose company had been hired to conduct online counselling) in his statement said that after some Supreme Court’s orders, you and S.N Singh (former Ayush Director) got many admissions done after conniving with owners of many colleges wherein substantial dealings took place from government to Minister. What is the reality behind it?

Answer: “In the year 2019, the hon’ble Supreme Court passed orders on the petitions jointly filed by private Ayurved College Association, Private Unani Medical College Association, some colleges including Bharat Ayurved Medical College, Sri Satya Ayurved College Moradabad, Jamia Tibbiya Unani, Deoband Unani, Vivek Auvedic College, Santushti Ayurvedic College, Hakeem Raees Unani College, Aligarh Ayurved Unani College, Vivek College, Dr Anar Singh College, Babu Singh Daddu Singh College, Jeevan Jyoti College, WTM College, Sanjivani College, Bhartiya Ayurved College, De Abdul Ali Tibbiya College and 10-12 other colleges. Dr Anwar Saeed of Jamia Tibbiya Saharanpur, and Dr Akram of Bharat Ayurved Muzaffarnagar came to meet me carrying the orders of the court. The copy of the order was delivered to the Director, Prof. S.N. Singh who read the orders. Director S.N. Singh also called me in his chamber.”

“Akram and Anwar said that Sir if you ensure quick implementation of the orders, then together with all private colleges can give you Rs. 1.10 Crores for UG and Rs. 50 lacs for PG. On this, the Director and myself gave them assurance to bring Rs 10 lacs advance, then we will settle the deal with the Minister through his PS Raj Kumar Diwakar. Thereafter, they went back. Director S.N. Singh asked me to send a proposal along with court orders immediately to the government which I did. The same evening, I talked to Raj Kumar Diwakar to meet Minister Dharam Singh Saini. He told me to come to his residence 16, Gautam Palli, in the evening.”

The testimony of Dr Umakant Singh further revealed, “I along with Director Dr S. N. Singh reached the Minister’s bungalow where Raj Kumar Diwakar was present. He took us to the Minister in the meeting hall where I and Dr S.N. Singh gave him the copy of the orders and told him that Dr Akram and Dr Anwar Saeed had approached us for its quick implementation and thereafter they will come and meet on behalf of all the colleges after implementation. We came back.”

“After a few days, Akram and Anwar called me near Sri Ram Tower in an Innova car and handed over me a bag containing Rs. 10 lacs and informed me that they have talked to all the colleges and you issue the orders quickly. I came back to the Directorate and informed Dr S.N. Singh in his chamber. He told me you keep Rs. 2 lacs, go and give two lacs to Ram Kumar Diwakar and keep six lacs of mine with you. My house is under construction and I will tell you to give it in that. Soon, thereafter, orders were implemented and action was taken. A college-wise list of candidates for admission also came to the Directorate for verification from the counselling members – Joint Secretary Laxman Singh, Prof P.C. Saxena, Director S.N. Singh and myself. Thereafter it got approval of the Minister through the government. Thereafter, the college wise list was sent back.”

Dr Umakant further revealed, “After a few days, Akram and Anwar again called me in the car and handed over Rs. 1 crore cash which I carried to the Directorate. I gave Rs one crore to Dr S.N. Singh out of which Rs. 35 lacs were for Minister Dharam Singh Saini, Rs 3 lacs for Prof P.C. Saxena, Rs 2 lacs for Joint Secretary Laxman Singh, Rs 10 lacs for me and Rs 26 lacs for the officers of the state government. The minister’s Rs. 35 lacs were given to him by S.N. Singh and myself in the presence of Raj Kumar Diwakar at his residence which Diwakar carried inside. Remaining Rs 25 lacs were given to Additional Chief Secretary Prashant by S.N. Singh at his residence. Rs 1 lac was given to Vishnu Srivastav, Section Officer, by Director S.N. Singh.”

“After a few days Anwar and Akram brought Rs 50 lacs for PG admissions and I collected the same from them near Sri Ram Tower and gave it to Director S.N. Singh. Out of this, Rs. 30 lacs for Minister Dharam Singh Saini, Rs. 8 lacs for Prof Suresh Chandra Saxena, Director Syllabus and Evolution, Rs 2 lacs for Prof P.C. Saxena, Rs 5 lacs for S.N. Singh and Rs. 5  lacs for me.”

Dr Umakant also said, “In 2020-21, I collected Rs 4-5 lacs per college for granting no objection to new colleges. Out of this collected money, myself and Dr S.N. Singh gave Rs 20-20 lacs to Minister Dharam Singh Saini at his residence in the presence of Raj Kumar Diwakar.” The testimony of Dr Umakant was admitted by Dr S.N. Singh, who was called from the prison to face Dr Umakant Singh, along with kingpin of the admission scam, Kuldeep Verma, whose company was hired to conduct online counselling of the selected candidates through NEET 2021 examination.

The Bench observed, “From a bare perusal of the aforesaid statement given by Dr Umakant Singh, it is evident that huge money was usurped by various persons in the admission process of the year 2019, in the name of compliance of the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The Investigating Officer present before this Court at the time of arguments, accepted that the allegations levelled by Dr Umakant, quoted above, which are undoubtedly very serious, were not verified from any senior officers of the government.”

“After looking at such wrong doings by the authorities for admission in UG and PG courses and that too, in the name of compliance of the order of the Hon’ble Apex Court, depriving the eligible students; as also finding grave lapses on the part of the Investigating Agency, which may have fatal consequences on the justice delivery system, this court cannot simply shut its eyes,” the Bench remarked.

The Bench while directing the Director, CBI, New Delhi, to register a case on the statement of Dr Umakant, recorded under Section 161 Cr.P.C. in the present case, as mentioned in para 17 of this order (part of CD 20), ordered investigation into the allegations made by Dr Umakant in relation to malpractices adopted in the admission process of UG and PG courses in Ayush Department, in the year 2019. It further directed the Deputy Superintendent of Police, STF to hand over all the relevant copies of the documents, including the case diary, to the Director CBI.

Appearing for Dr Ritu Garg, who was arrested by the STF on March 1, 2023, senior advocate, I.B. Singh, assisted by Purnendu Chakravarty, submitted that the applicant is a renowned lady doctor, who completed her M.B.B.S. and M.D. from the Institute of Medical Sciences, BHU, Varanasi and has been running Ritu Diagnostic Centre for the last 23 years. The applicant is also providing free medical treatments to the needy persons in Santushti Ayurvedic Medical College and Hospital, Chunar, District Mirzapur, of which she is the owner. He contended that the applicant has been falsely implicated in the present case under Sections 419, 420, 467, 468, 471, 120-B of the IPC and Section 66D of the IT Act, and she has been in jail since February 28, 2023. Dr Garg was accused of facilitating admissions of at least 70 undeserving candidates to her institution in connivance with other officials of the Ayurveda directorate.

Senior Advocate I.B. Singh explained that the owners of the colleges have no role in handling merit data and NEET counselling process and emphasised that there is no allegation that the applicant was able to interpolate the result of NEET 2021 examination or conspired with the co-accused persons for offline counselling. He submitted that it is undisputed that the counselling was done by the Members of Board and alleged that the investigation is going in the wrong direction to save higher government officers.

During the arguments, the government counsel conceded the fact that no content related to interpolation in the result provided by the DGME is found against the applicant. The A.G.A. also accepted that the only offence made out against the applicant is of conspiracy. The court thus allowed bail to the accused Dr Ritu Garg and further ordered CBI investigations into the allegations against the minister and officers of the government.

The STF has been probing the scam since November 2022 and has arrested 16 people including Dr Garg, the former director, Ayurveda, SN Singh, counselling in-charge, Dr Umakant Yadav, former senior assistant director, Rajesh Singh, and former junior assistant in Ayurveda Directorate, Kailash Chandra Bhaskar, among others.

In November last year, a major scam surfaced in Uttar Pradesh in granting admission to hundreds of ineligible candidates, who appeared in the online counselling process to join Ayurvedic, Homoeopathic and Unani medical courses in the various government and private colleges, fudging and corrupting the merit list declared after National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) for 2021-2022 session. Even 22 candidates who had not appeared in NEET, got admission in some of the good colleges. The government suspended 891 such students who failed to score necessary cut-off marks in NEET but manoeuvred the system, scarred by a deeply rooted scam, to get admissions. It was seen as a major blow to the much-hyped plank of corruption-free governance in the BJP-ruled state of UP.