By: Express News Service | Shimla | Published: June 7, 2020 11:59:13 pm
Superintendent of Police in the state vigilance and anti-corruption bureau Shalini Agnihotri, told news Agency PTI that Singh was called for questioning but he evaded a direct reply when he was shown new evidence collected by the bureau. (Representational)
An employee of a Punjab-based firm has been arrested in connection with the alleged medical purchase scam in Himachal Pradesh, which led to the arrest and suspension of director of health services (DHS) last month.
Prithvi Singh, 46, a resident of Sangrah in Sirmaur district who was working as a liasioning officer for a Punjab-based firm Bioaide, was arrested by the state anti-corruption and vigilance bureau on Saturday, an official said.
Singh allegedly recorded a 43-second audio clip of his telephonic conversation with Dr AK Gupta, then DHS, in which the duo were purportedly heard discussing the handover of Rs 5 lakh. The clip went viral, leading to Gupta’s arrest on May 20. According to the vigilance bureau, Gupta and Singh were discussing the exchange of bribe following the supply of personal protection equipment (PPE) kits worth over Rs 1 crore by Bioaide to the Himachal Pradesh government.
Superintendent of Police in the state vigilance and anti-corruption bureau Shalini Agnihotri, told news Agency PTI that Singh was called for questioning but he evaded a direct reply when he was shown new evidence collected by the bureau. Singh was produced before a court on Sunday.
In reply to a question, the SP said the investigation in the matter was underway and it was not yet established whether the bribe was handed over to the now suspended director or not.
The arrest comes a days after Rajeev Bindal quit as the state BJP president on “moral grounds”, saying some people were indirectly linking the case with his party. Later, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur said that Bindal resigned to ensure an impartial probe into the matter.
“Isteefey ke liye na toh humne kaha. Aur unhone jab is saari cheez ko dekha ke media, media ke ilawa dusre kuch log is prakar ki baatein kar rahe hain.. ke naitikta ke aadhar par mujhe sochna chahiye ke is baat ko is tareh se jab liya ja raha hai.. aur aisi paristhiti mei .. jo baatein.. jo vyakti jiske saath conversation hua hai, vo unke nazdeek hai.. usse unko joda ja raha hai.. toh aise mei unhone kaha ke ye jaanch nishpaksh honi chahiye (I didn’t ask for his resignation…It was being said that Singh is close to Bindal…his name was being associated with the person. That was why he resigned on moral grounds to ensure an impartial probe),” said Thakur during a press briefing last Thursday.
During the briefing, Thakur was also asked why Singh had not been arrested and made an accused in the case even though he had offered the bribe and had made no complaint to any authority. The audio clip reached the vigilance bureau only after it went viral.
Gupta was released on bail on May 30, after a court hearing in which the prosecution told the judge that he had attempted to take a bribe but no exchange of money had taken place, and that the viral audio clip was the only incriminating evidence against the accused so far. According to the bail order, the investigating officer informed the court that a team of officials had been deputed to arrest both the “supplier and the officer” anticipating an exchange of bribe. Gupta retired on May 31.
Singh, a native of Rajana village in Sangrah, is a former political leader from Renukaji Assembly constituency from where he had unsuccessfully contested the Vidhan Sabha elections on the BSP ticket in 2007, at the age of 33. According to his affidavit filed with the state election department, he cleared his Class 10 from a school in Dharamshala and Class 12 from Delhi in 1997, before pursuing a one-year diploma. His and his wife’s assets, according to that affidavit, amounted to Rs 3.75 lakh and they jointly owned two properties worth Rs 32 lakh with others.
Singh later switched to the BJP, and also held the position of district president of party’s SC Morcha, several politicians in the area told The Indian Express.
Former BJP MLA Hirdaya Lal from Renukaji, a relative of Singh, corroborated this. Lal, currently a “special invitee” member of the district BJP unit, said that Singh is currently a BJP member and was the president of SC Morcha around 4-5 years ago. “He helped me in my election campaign, too,” he said, adding that Singh is into private business.
However, Trilok Jamwal, the state general secretary of BJP, said, “As per my information, Singh is not a member or office-bearer of our party.”
He said that he cannot say if Singh was an office-bearer of the party’s SC Morcha in the past “because district level records are only available at our district units”.
Another political leader from Renukaji, who did not wish to be named, said that Prithvi later moved his base to Chandigarh and Solan and started liasioning for medical establishments.
Among the messages being circulated among some members of Congress and BJP since Gupta’s arrest are photographs of Prithvi Singh showing him as a staff employee of Apex Diagnostics, a medical testing centre in Solan, run by Bindal’s daughter and son-in-law. A visiting card declaring him as a marketing manager of the medical testing centre is also being circulated, while the Facebook page of the centre has several photographs (posted in 2018) of Singh with the rest of the staff.
Dr Raj Kumar Gandhi, Bindal’s son-in-law, told The Indian Express that Prithvi Singh worked for the centre “a very long time ago”, and that he does not know anything about the ongoing vigilance probe. However, a woman answering the centre’s landline number said that Prithvi Singh was an employee “who has not been working with us since the time of Covid-19”.
Earlier, when the Express contacted Singh on the number given on his Apex Diagnostics visiting card, and asked if he was from Bioaide Corporation, he replied in the affirmative but refused to talk further saying that “all records have been provided to the vigilance”.
Bioaide owners, when contacted, also refused to comment, but an employee answering a landline number admitted that Singh was engaged with the company.
Bindal too refused to talk on the matter despite repeated attempts. He had earlier said, “Jo prashna mere se sambandhit nahi hai, jo vishay mere se juda nahi hai, usko ghumaya media ne…. maine uttar toh de hi diya, aur bada spasht uttar diya hai… Ab let vigilance do its job… let the result come.”
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