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Union minister link in drug-scam raids

New Delhi, Jan. 16: The CBI today raided 15 places, including the houses of additional private secretary Sudarshan Kumar and Gunjan Prasad, former officer on special duty to Union minister C.P. Thakur, in connection with alleged irregularities in the purchase of medicines for Central Government Health Services (CGHS) dispensaries.

The raids began here this morning after the CBI registered two FIRs to probe irregularities in supply and purchase of drugs for 23 CGHS dispensaries — which provide central government employees healthcare — as well as the empanelment of chemists.

Among the houses searched were those of former CGHS additional director-general Jawahar Lal, controller of accounts of the Union health ministry Jawahar Thakur and some chemists.

Thakur, who was health minister until June 2002, said in Patna today: “I am not aware of any irregularities committed in the purchase of drugs for supply to CGHS dispensaries.”

The minister, who is now in charge of small-scale industries and Northeast affairs, sought to distance himself from the matter and demanded a thorough probe. He clarified: “The procurement of medicines does not take place at the ministerial level. There is a separate department for purchase...”

Reacting to the alleged involvement of two of his staff, the minister said: “The OSD (Prasad) is no longer with me. The other (Kumar) is a low clerk-level staff. And there seems to be no reason for them to be involved in the purchase of medicines.”

Thakur added: “I am not able to understand the entire thing. I am coming to Delhi tomorrow and would only then be able to make proper assessment of the situation.”

The minister said “a decision (to remove Kumar) can be taken only after knowing the truth”. He added that Prasad, who is an Indian Revenue Service officer, was an upright officer who returned to his parent service after leaving the health ministry. “I will talk to him (Prasad) and other staff to know the truth,” Thakur added.

Referring to the Opposition’s attempt to derive political mileage from the raids, Thakur said: “Every matter becomes a political one, but there is nothing in the matter to prove my involvement.”

There have allegedly been gross irregularities. Earlier, the CGHS used to buy directly from manufacturers through the ministry’s Medical Stores Organisation, which falls under the health services’ directorate-general.

But since 1998, more and more medicines are being directly purchased from private manufacturers and chemists empanelled with the health ministry. This is what CBI officials claim has led to the irregularities. The CGHS buys drugs worth Rs 150 crore annually.

“The chemists formed a cartel and used money power to influence the… empanellment of chemists for supply of medicines to the CGHS dispensaries,” the CBI said. After getting empanelled, the chemists would reportedly charge exorbitant rates, provide bills of patients who never visited the dispensary and also overcharged sales tax on medicines, the bureau added.

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