NRHM scam: Former cabinet secretary under CBI scanner
Mayawati had delegated her powers to Shashank Shekhar Singh to take decisions on her behalf
Virendra Nath Bhatt
Trouble is in the offing for former Uttar Pradesh Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh. The Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) probe into the multi-crore National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam is all set to knock at the former bureaucrat’s door who virtually lorded over the state during the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) regime and acted as the de facto chief minister.
The CBI is now in possession of an executive order issued by the state government on 31 May 2007 by which the then chief minister Mayawati, barring decisions on important policy matters, had delegated all powers of the political chief executive of the state to Singh. The order issued soon after Mayawati took over as the state’s CM for the fourth time, specifically stated that “CM is delegating her powers to Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh and only the files relating to important policy matters will be sent to her and on rest of the matters approval on behalf of the chief minister will be given by the cabinet secretary”.
From 13 May 2007, the day she took oath as the CM till the end of 2009, Mayawati also held the portfolio of the family welfare department, the executive agency for the NRHM. It was during this period that the cabinet secretary, on behalf of the CM, gave his approval to the files of the family welfare department including administrative and financial sanction for various works under the NRHM. Official sources said that Singh also approved those files where the sanction of the CM was required as per the rules of governing the process for the disposal of files and overall decision making in the state secretariat. Sources said even after 2009, when this portfolio was allotted to Babu Singh Kushwaha, it was the cabinet secretary who signed all the files of the family welfare department which were sent to the CM’s office for her approval. Kushwaha, the former minister and the prime accused in the NRHM scam is presently in jail, who was arrested by the CBI on 3 March 2012.
The CBI on 10 May had also arrested Pradeep Shukla, the then principal secretary of health and family welfare department and also the State Mission Director of NRHM. Shukla, a 1981 batch IAS officer, has been placed under suspension by the state government after his arrest. During his interrogation, Shukla told CBI that he alone was not responsible for the scam and he was only following orders that came from higher authorities. He told the CBI that the officers of the CM’s secretariat (read: cabinet secretary) should also be questioned and be included in the list of the accused in NRHM scam.
Sources said Shukla also argued that if he and Babu Singh Kushwaha could be charged and arrested, then how could the CBI let off Mayawati, who held this portfolio for two years and the cabinet secretary, who issued directions on her behalf?
It was on the basis of this order issued on 31 May 2007 that the state family welfare minister Ahmed Hasan had recently held Mayawati accountable for the NRHM scam. “Mayawati and the cabinet secretary are the two key persons who are behind the NRHM (scam), the others did only what they were asked to do by the Chief Minister’s secretariat,” said Hasan, adding “none involved in the scam will be spared and the state government will extend its full cooperation to the CBI and all the documents and files asked by the central investigation agency will be made available to it.”
The former cabinet secretary entered the state service as a helicopter pilot in civil aviation department in 1977. Within few years he was known for enjoying close proximity with successive chief ministers of UP. Over the last 30 years he enjoyed close proximity with all the chief ministers barring the BJP leader Kalyan Singh. Shekhar, as he is known in bureaucratic circles, was close to Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Naryan Dutt Tewari, Vir Bahadur Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav and of course, Mayawati. Singh, a Jat from Meerut, was close to the former Prime Minister VP Singh and was supposed to be elevated to the designation of the CMD of the Air India. However, short-lived government of VP Singh fell in November 1990. Singh, without being an IAS enjoyed the unique status of being the highest paid civil servant in the country, whose emoluments were more than the cabinet secretary of India.
Virendra Nath Bhatt is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.