Himachal Pradesh: Suspended health director granted bail

Shimla: A city court on Saturday granted bail to now-suspended Himachal Pradesh Health Services Director Ajay Kumar Gupta, who was arrested on May 20 by the State Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau after a 43-second audio clip in which he purportedly asks the other person for a bribe of Rs 5 lakh went viral.

Special Judge Arvind Malhotra granted him bail on Saturday after hearing the arguments of public prosecutor Sandeep Atri and defence counsel Kashmir Singh Thakur.

Gupta, who is due to retire on Sunday, is accused of seeking bribe against a purchase of healthcare equipment by his department.

Gupta was on five-day police custody till May 30 after initially being remanded to five-day judicial custody following his arrest.

He was suspended by the state government following his arrest.

Earlier seeking his bail, Thakur argued that the investigators were yet to question Prithvi Singh, who is reportedly a liasioning officer of Punjab’s Dera Bassi-based firm Bio Aid and allegedly recorded the audio, in which he can be heard discussing the handover of Rs 5 lakh with Gupta.

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The health scam took a political turn on May 27, when state BJP chief Rajeev Bindal resigned from his post, saying he was doing so to ensure a proper investigation into the case of alleged corruption by the director.

In a resignation letter sent to BJP president J P Nadda, Bindal said he was tendering his resignation on high moral grounds as some people were dragging the party’s name in the alleged corruption by the health official.

Defence counsel Thakur argued in the court that purchase of any medical equipment was not made at his client Gupta’s instance. The secretary was aware about the purchase and the order was made by the deputy director, he argued.

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Seeking Gupta’s bail, Thakur stated that his retirement is due on Sunday.

Continuing his submissions on the Vigilance Bureau’s behalf, public prosecutor Atri sought his police custody. The case is serious and if the quality of personal protection equipment (PPE) is compromised, it may endanger the lives of frontline coronavirus warriors, he said.

When asked what evidence the prosecution has against the accused, the public prosecutor stated that the audio clip and documents establishing that the payment was made based on his signatures and the work order was issued by him.

Arguments on the bail application concluded on Saturday morning. Special Judge Malhotra pronounced his order in the afternoon.

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