BJP alleges ambulance scam in Rajasthan, company linked to two ministers' sons

BJP alleges ambulance scam in Rajasthan, company linked to two ministers' sons
New Delhi:  The BJP says that a company with connections to the sons of two senior union ministers  has gypped the government of crores of rupees in Rajasthan where it's been hired to supply ambulances across the state. The Congress is in power in Rajasthan; it has said the BJP's accusations are baseless.

Ziqitza Health Care Limited was co-founded by Ravi Krishna, whose father Vayalar Ravi is the Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs. On its board of directors is Karti Chidambaram, whose father P Chidambaram is the Home Minister. The BJP alleges that Ziqitza was hired in 2009 in "a non-transparent manner" to provide what's referred to as the 108 ambulance service in Rajasthan - a public-private partnership to ensure help for  emergency patients in poor and remote areas. The service is part of the National Rural Health Mission. The BJP alleges the blatant malpractices including billing the government for bogus trips make this Rajasthan's equivalent of the huge health scam that has embarrassed and infected  Mayawati's government in UP.

At a press conference held recently, Kirit Somaiya, a senior BJP leader said that Ziqitza was awarded the contract to supply ambulances in partnership with the government because of its obvious and hefty political connections. He furnished documents that allegedly prove the company has been over-paid crores of rupees for ambulances that existed only on paper, or for trips that were never made. Mr Somaiya has been served a legal notice by Ziqitza for defamation.

Mr Krishnan says the charges against his company are baseless. Asserting that there was  "no favour" shown to his company by the Rajasthan government, he told NDTV, "It is a coincidence that the tender was won when the Congress is in power." Mr Krishnan said that his company was the lowest bidder among four parties in 2009 for the government contract and that the government has not been over-charged. "As a politician's son, can I not do business?" he asked.

Karti Chidambaram told NDTV that he is not an investor in the company, and has no shares. "I am only a non-executive director," he said. Ziqitza also says that it was not selected in four different states where the Congress was in power when it participated in the bidding process.

Mr P Chidambaram today brushed aside the controversy and said, " I believe the company has sent a legal notice, and that was I believe, read in the assembly. So don't rush to conclusions." (Read Ziqitza's legal notice to Kirit Somaiya)

Ziqitza's operations in Rajasthan were studied by Rajasthan's financial advisor (NHRM) and the state health department because their records seemed problematic.

For instance, the financial advisor had objected to Ziqitza showing 55,000 ambulance trips in September, 2011 while the actual trips found by vigilance officials were 37,000. In the same month, the company billed the government for 50 ambulances which were "off-road" or not in use. Between March and September last year, according  to the records, the company over-billed the government by 3.5 crores, a discrepancy first pointed out by the financial advisor to the state government.

The BJP alleges that in December, the Chief Secretary of the state intervened and stopped the matter from being probed.

Rajasthan's Health Minister Aimaduddin Ahmad  says after the irregularities were noticed the government has deducted Rs 10 crore from Ziqitza's bills. Speaking to NDTV, Mr Krishnan said, " It is a commercial dispute."

Facilities like Ziqitza's ambulance services in Rajasthan are funded by the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) - the centre sends huge funds to the state to improve health services in poor and under-developed parts of the country.

In UP, the scheme was hijacked by a maze of corrupt bureaucrats and politicians; the scandal has been used by the Congress to slam Mayawati as UP votes for its next government.  The nefarious arrangements that allowed for money to be siphoned caught the country's attention full-throttle when two senior doctors associated with implementing the scheme were murdered;  their junior who filled in for them died in jail under mysterious circumstances.  This year, as the CBI investigates the UP scandal, another two men questioned about the scam have died - one committed suicide.

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