The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday registered a case of alleged irregularities against a galaxy of top Congress leaders in the award of an ambulance service contract to Ziqitza Healthcare by the Rajasthan government in 2010.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had asked for a CBI probe on it last year. Those named as accused include the former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot as well as three directors of the company, (at the time when the irregularities had been alleged) Rajasthan PCC chief Sachin Pilot, former Union Minister P. Chidambaram’s son Karthi Chidambaram, and Congress MP Vayalar Ravi’s son, Ravi Krishna, according to the CBI.
The CBI has alleged that technical specifications in the contract were tweaked to favour the company and therefore, its then directors, Mr. Karti Chidambaram, Mr. Pilot, Mr. Krishna and Ms. Sweta Mangal who have been named as accused in the case along with the former Chief Minister Duru Miya got undue favours.
The former National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) Director has also been named. The CBI also revealed that not only were excess bills furnished by the company but that financial irregularities to the tune of Rs. 2.56 crore had come to light.
The Rajasthan Police had registered the case on a complaint filed by former Jaipur Mayor Pankaj Joshi.
“BJP leader Kirit Somaiya had initially lodged a complaint with former Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad alleging discrepancies in the award of the contract to Ziqitza Healthcare in 2010 to run GPS-fitted ambulances in Rajasthan. Mr. Azad ordered an audit into the issue,” said a CBI official.
A Hyderabad-based company, Emergency and Management Research Institute (EMRI) earlier ran the ambulance services in the State.
Though the auditor did not quantify the loss caused, over and above the excess bill and the Rs. 2.56 crore loss figure cited earlier, irregularities had been detected in the process of awarding the contract. Subsequently, Ziqitza’s contract was cancelled in 2013 and EMRI was again called to resume the services. The CB-CID had been investigating this case earlier, wherein they had named former State Health Minister A.A. Khan, and Shaffi Mather, former Economic Adviser to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
The Hindu spoke to Mr. Pilot, Mr. Gehlot and Mr. Karti Chidambaram who alleged that political vendetta was behind the move. “The action by the CBI is on the prodding of the Vasundhara Raje government and is nothing but a mean, vendetta-driven malicious prosecution,” said Mr. Pilot.
He added that the company had sent a legal notice to Kirit Somaiya (the original complainant in the case) but had not received a response so far. Mr. Gehlot dared the CBI “to investigate Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and her son (Lok Sabha MP) Dushyant Singh on the Lalitgate matter.”
Mr. Chidambaram said that he had been “an independent non-executive director of Ziqitza only till 24th February, 2012.”
He clarified that he had “never held any share in the company at any point of time nor had been involved in the administration of the company.”
“The company has others who continue in their positions,” he said. Ravi Krishna, director, corporate affairs of the company said the company believed in the fairness of the justice system and that the bona fides of the firm would be established.