Fire in the Hole: MoD Sacks Whistleblowers of Army Health Scam
NEW DELHI: A major corruption scandal is staring the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the face regarding the distribution of health benefits to former servicemen that was outsourced to a private firm at an annual contract of Rs 400 crore during the UPA regime.
Four whistleblowers who had raised their voices against the “brazen acts of corruption” in the Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) — responsible for distribution of health benefits to over 43 lakh retired defence personnel — have been humiliated and shunted out.
Col Vivek Bhat and Lt Col Manish have resigned, and Col Balraj Sardana and Brig Rajan Jamwal were unceremoniously removed. Another Colonel-rank officer who has written an official complaint, also received marching orders for not toeing the line of his senior officers.
The officer wrote a detailed letter to Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag, pointing out the wrongdoings in the department and connivance of senior officers with private players. Ironically, the Army has not ordered a court of inquiry into the exposé as the matter involves officers of the rank of Major General and Brigadier. The matter has also been presented before Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who has sought a report from the Army.
The whistleblower Colonel, whose name has been withheld, stated that there were allegations of bribery against a private firm that is involved in issuing smart cards for the scheme.
A showcause notice was issued to the firm, which had accepted the charges stating the officials concerned have been transferred out of the project, the Colonel wrote. The Colonel, who was posted to the ECHS headquarters in January 2013, found that several items had not been delivered by the firm. “The renewal of the contract agreement in May 2010 is questionable since the firm had delivered just about 40 per cent of deliverables in phase-I of the contract,” the Colonel said.
The private firm, which hired a retired Brigadier as its top functionary, was even chargesheeted by the Army while in service. The officer alleged that when he confronted top ECHS officials, they started humiliating him and in January 2014, the Managing Director and Deputy MD asked him to hand over the project responsibility to another officer.
Moreover, when a penalty clause was imposed on the firm by regional centres of Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) for non-delivery of services as per the contract agreement, the top functionary — including the MD of ECHS — directed him to withdraw the penalty clause letter.
His seniors also tried to frame him by initiating an inquiry on the basis of an anonymous complaint. Army headquarters did not reply to an email from this correspondent seeking its response.
The serving Colonel whose name is withheld is working in the Delhi-based head office of the ECHS as the project officer of Smart Card which is to be given to the beneficiaries of the scheme.
In a letter, the Colonel wrote, “I am pained to report to you on senior officers in Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme, who have been acting against the interest of the organisation and providing financial benefits to the firms providing services to ECHS. The senior officers do not take ownership of ECHS and rather show allegiance to the firms, which are required to provide services to ECHS, diluting the efforts of the staff to extract mandated services from the contractual firms.”
Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme was launched in April 2003 to provide allopathic medicare to defence pensioners and their dependents through a network of its polyclinics, service medical facilities and civil empanelled government hospitals across India. The scheme has been structured on the lines of the Central Government Health Scheme, which ensures cashless transactions, as far as possible, and is financed by the Centre.
Till now, 13,48,517 ex-servicemen have enlisted with the scheme along with their 30,03,577 dependents. The total beneficiaries are 43,52,094.