The Bureau Of Grift

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The CBI knew Ketan Desai was corrupt. Why then did they let him go in 2005, asks Brijesh Pandey

Manipulator Dr Ketan Desai, moments after his arrest for taking bribes to dole out licences to private medical colleges
Manipulator Dr Ketan Desai, moments after his arrest for taking bribes to dole out licences to private medical colleges
Photo: Indian Express Archive

LAST WEEK, Dr Ketan Desai, President, Medical Council of India (MCI), was arrested by the CBI for demanding Rs 2 crore as bribe for granting licence to a Medical College in Punjab. Given that Desai is an extremely powerful figure in the medical fraternity and presides over almost the entire medical infrastructure of the country, this should have come as a welcome move. But shockingly, it appears that the same CBI had given Desai a clean chit five years ago for the same offence — taking bribes for giving illegal licences. So why had the CBI let him off earlier when stories of his corruption were already legendary?

The answers damn the CBI as much as Dr Desai. A Delhi High Court judgement of November 2001 reveals a disturbing story of how, despite clear-cut proof against him, and severe strictures by the High Court, Dr Desai not only continued to rule over the MCI but also managed to get a clean chit from the CBI.

In 2000, a group of doctors — Dr Harish Bhalla and others — had filed a writ petition against the appointment of Desai as the president of the MCI. After hearing arguments from both parties, a two-judge bench comprising Justice Arun Kumar and Justice RC Chopra had made several scathing remarks against Desai. “Dr Ketan Desai is misusing his office as president of MCI and is minting money. Such a person does not deserve to occupy this high public office of the President of MCI. If medical education is on sale by such corrupt practices, what will happen to the medical profession, and what type of medical aid will the citizens of this country get? It is a complete betrayal of the trust reposed,” the court had observed. The court further said, “Dr Ketan Desai has manipulated the MCI affairs in such a way that he now has complete hold over all powers vested with the MCI. Minutes of the Executive Committee (EC) meetings show that this eminent body, which is supposed to exercise powers on behalf of the MCI, leaves all decisions to the President alone, who in turn is using his position to make illegal monetary gains out of this role.”

Among other damning evidence provided by Dr Bhalla, the court had taken special notice of the fact that bank drafts worth Rs 65 lakh had been found in the possession of Dr Desai during an income tax raid on his residential and business premises on July 18 and July 20, 2000. When Dr Desai’s lawyer pleaded that this amount was not a bribe but a gift deed, the court turned it down.

The CBI needs to answer why, if no Favour was done or sought, did someone ‘gift’ Rs 50 Lakh to Ketan Desai all of a sudden?

This was affirmed by Bhaskar Reddy, Joint Director, Income Tax (Delhi) who told his counterpart in Ahmedabad, “These alleged gifts are make-believe arrangements — not genuine gifts. These are accommodation transactions in the form of gifts and the alleged donors merely acted as conduits to channelise the money unaccounted for lying with Dr Desai into his and his family members bank accounts.”

What the court found most shocking was that Dr Desai was completely silent about the Rs 65 lakh in his affidavit, and did not dispute the raid. An income tax assessment order was placed before the court which showed his undisclosed income as nil. The receipt did not make any mention of the 65 lakh.

Second chance What prompted the CBI to close the earlier case against the MCI President — naivete or lack of integrity?
Second chance What prompted the CBI to close the earlier case against the MCI President — naivete or lack of integrity?
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

“A truthful person should have come out with full facts. The complete silence of Dr Desai on this aspect and failure to reply despite opportunity, leads to only one inference, and that is, admission on the part of (Ketan) Desai of having received these huge amounts. He has maintained complete silence on this,” observed the court. Apart from this, Desai was a Professor of Urology and servant of Government of Gujarat at the time when the ‘gift deed’ of Rs 65 lakh was recovered. As per the Gujarat Civil Services (conduct) rules of 1971, a government servant cannot accept a gift exceeding Rs 1,000 without the permission of the state government. No such permission was taken by Dr Desai. In lieu of such glaring abuse of power by Dr Desai, the two member bench of the Delhi High Court had ordered the removal of Desai and constituted a CBI inquiry.

But the CBI failed its mandate on every count. Despite the damning objections to Dr Desai’s conduct as the president of MCI, surprisingly, the CBI did not find any wrongdoing on his part. In its closure report, the CBI stated that “they have investigated the case and found that the family of a certain Windlass had made a gift deed of Rs 15 lakh to Ketan Desai and both parties have mentioned the money in their income tax declarations. Furthermore, Dr Sanjay Sachdeva and his brother Dr Nalin Sachdeva, who are private practitioners in Delhi, issued two cheques of Rs 25 lakh each to Dr Desai. Both parties have declared it in their income tax return.” According to the CBI, “No evidence has come on record to indicate that Dr Desai has extended any official favours to the Sachdeva brothers. During their polygraph test, the Sachdeva brothers revealed that since Desai is an influential person in medical circles, they gifted the said amount of Rs 50 lakh to earn his goodwill.”

AT BEST, this appears to be naivete in the extreme. At worst, it raises questions about the CBI’s own integrity. If there was no favour done or sought, why would someone ‘gift’ a hefty sum of Rs 50 lakh all of a sudden? And what did the CBI make of the letter by the Joint Director, Income Tax, who had assessed the ‘Rs 65 lakh gift deed’ as nothing but ‘accommodation transactions in the form of gifts’? Why was Dr Desai completely silent on the aspect of Rs 65 lakh gift deed in the High Court? And why had the CBI not investigated Dr Desai’s role fully when the High Court had described in graphic detail the stranglehold Desai wielded over the MCI?

When TEHELKA asked the CBI for answers to these questions, they did not respond. They had filed their closure report on December 22, 2005, and it was based on this report that Dr Desai could make a re-entry as the President of MCI in March 2009. After his re-election as the president of the MCI, Dr Desai had asked doctors not to accept gifts from pharmaceutical companies. Given his reputation for corruption, this could only have been a cosmetic request. Hopefully there will be better men to see the request implemented.

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