Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fraud at PHFI and the role of the chief executive

Confronted with evidence of forgery at Public Health Foundation of India, an assistant professor employed by the organization makes remarks that reveal ‘production’ of documents and undermining of the RTI Act, 2005, by chief executive K. Srinath Reddy. It's notable that Reddy has long been the sidekick of Rajat Gupta, former global head of McKinsey and a convicted fraudster. 

I was forwarded, on 11 September 2012, an email written by one Dr. Giridhar R. Babu of PHFI – reproduced at the bottom of this article – in which he defended his organization’s forgery and fraud with remarks that are not only childish, but also show that president Dr. K. Srinath Reddy has himself been engaged in ‘production’ of documents and interfering with the functions of a public information officer (PIO) under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

(PHFI, whose governing council is currently chaired by Infosys’ N.R. Narayana Murthy, provided me a forged document as part of generally misleading information in response to my RTI request dated 05 July 2012.
The document in question purports to be a copy of the detailed list of the members of PHFI’s governing council as on 31 March 2006, signed by president K. Srinath Reddy on 03 August 2006, but bears clear evidence of recent tampering or forgery.
PHFI response, dated 13 August 2012, calls into question the veracity and accuracy of information it has been providing to other RTI applicants and to the Central Information Commission or CIC.
It transpires that PHFI – which remained non compliant with the RTI Act for most of its existence since its inception in February 2006 – provided misleading information to Mr. Kishan Lal, a Mumbai-based citizen, as well as to the CIC.
It was Mr. Kishan Lal’s request for information, dated 06 September 2011, which eventually led to the CIC holding on 14 February 2012 that PHFI was a public authority under the RTI Act and should start complying with the law.
One can clearly see a pattern of a falsification and forgery at PHFI that needs urgent response and corrective measures from the government whose representatives sit on the governing body of this organization.)

I would like to believe that Dr. Giridhar R. Babu’s remarks, which he has described as “facts”, can be used as evidence in a court of law and at the Central Information Commission.

1. About the five-page forged document, Dr. Babu says, “The names are entered correctly in the document provided to Mr. Bajaj”.
So PHFI made out this document especially for Mr. Bajaj by “entering the names correctly”, by labelling the document as ‘Details of the Governing Council, As at 31st March 2006’, by stamping each page of it with PHFI seal, by Dr. Reddy signing each page of it with the last page clearly bearing the date 03 August 2006 and place New Delhi, and by giving the addresses and occupations of the members of the board – except a few – as they were on 31 March 2006.

It’s clear that PHFI takes great trouble in manufacturing documents for RTI applicants. Instead of just typing out the names of the members of the board on a plain paper, they went through the rigmarole described above just to make me believe that I am being sent a copy of the composition of the governing council as stamped, signed and certified on 03 August 2006.

My RTI request was only for “a list of the members of PHFI’s governing body, including the chairperson, which came into effect on 27 March 2006, with their designations”.

2. Dr. Babu bolsters his assertion that the document was especially made out for Mr. Bajaj by adding, “The designations were wrong and was entirely due to the clerical error of a junior staff who entered the current designation instead of earlier designations. This was an inadvertent error, a clerical one, without any reason behind it”.

3. Dr. Babu then adds, “These minor and harmless errors were not noticed by PIO. Subsequently Dr.Srinath Reddy has seen the names but not taken cognizance of the incorrect designations”.

So the PIO at PHFI, in her statutory role, is completely innocent of the fact that a document is being manufactured to resemble an originally signed and certified list of the members of the governing council to be sent to an information seeker under RTI Act 2005.

The PIO is innocent enough not to wonder that the requested information might as well be provided on a plain paper instead of being made to look like the composition of the board as signed, stamped and certified on 03 August 2006.

And why, on earth, does PHFI have to make out a list of the members of the board as on 31 March 2006 to be provided to an RTI applicant? Where is the originally certified document?

Dr. Srinath Reddy, on the other hand, not only dutifully signs each stamped page of the document that says, ‘As on 31st March 2006’, but also signs it alongside the date of 03 August 2006 to make the RTI applicant believe that they are getting the real McCoy.

So according to Dr. Babu, Dr. Reddy has not only been violating the RTI Act 2005 by interfering in what information is to be provided and in what manner under the law (which is the statutory duty of the PIO), but actually producing documents and committing forgery in the process.

4. Dr. Babu then makes some truly laughable assertions: “Also, there is no date mentioned beneath the signature of Dr.Reddy. If he had mentioned date, then it would could have been construed as deliberate attempt to provide wrong information”.

Well, date is “mentioned” not beneath the signature of Dr, Reddy, but alongside and it is 03 August 2006. Why does Mr. Giridhar require the date to be mentioned “beneath the signature” – and not alongside – for a document to constitute a “deliberate attempt to provide wrong information”?

There is no reason for anyone to add date beneath their signatures, when the document they are signing on already bears a date.
One would have to discard such a document if one really wanted a date different from the one it bore.

5. The response I received from PHFI, dated 13 August 2012, is not the only false or falsified information that PHFI has been providing under RTI Act 2005.
The evidence I have reveals a pattern of fabrication and provision of misleading information, not only to the RTI applicants but also statutory authorities like CIC.

(a) For example, PHFI sent what it described as a “certified true copy” of its Memorandum of Association (MoA) to Mr. Kishan Lal with a copy to CIC Mr. Shailesh Gandhi on 28 March 2012, which listed only eight members as registering themselves as society. (K. Srinath Reddy, R.A. Mashelkar, Rajat Gupta, Gautam Kumra, Prashanth Vasu, Ashok Alexander, Ajay Bahl and Raman Sharma.)

After Mr. Kishan Lal pointed out that this “certified true copy” does not even have signatures of the founding members and demanded that he be sent “copies of signed documents submitted to Registrar of Societies”, PHFI produced for him, on 25 April 2012, another MoA that showed 16 persons as the founding members.
(The additional eight − Probal Bhaduri, Anirudh Lakshman-Katre, Gautam Verma, Ishila Bhattacharya, Kumal Katre, Bishambhar Basu, Rameshwar, Sanjay Kumar − have been added at the back of the last page of the MoA in type-written script.)

(b) Through its response of 28 March 2012, PHFI informed Mr. Kishan Lal and the CIC that “The Governing Council with 21 members came into effect on March 27, 2006.”
And through its response of 13 August 2012, PHFI informed me with another “certified true copy” that its Governing Council that came into effect on 27 March 2006 had 24 members.

(c) Through its response of 13 August 2012, PHFI informed me that the meeting of PHFI’s governing council on 09 February 2006 was attended by “the first members of the Society” (which would purportedly mean 16) while the copy of the minutes of the meeting that she sent me showed that the meeting was attended by only five members of the society (Reddy, Kumra, Vasu, Alexander and Sharma).

And the additional eight names, appended in type-written script at the back page of the MoA, purportedly join PHFI on 08 February 2006 and resign the very next day, as the minutes of the meeting of the governing council show.

(d) That’s not all.
The four of the original eight (Kumra, Vasu, Bahl and Sharma) disappear from the governing council on 27 March 2006 and four government bureaucrats − Nirmal Ganguly, Prasanna Hota, Sujatha Rao and RK Srivastava – make an appearance, without there being any public announcement that the four bureaucrats had ever been authorized by the government to join PHFI board.

(Bear in mind that PHFI had earlier informed Mr. Kishan Lal and the CIC that “The Governing Council with 21 members came into effect on March 27, 2006”.)
If PHFI decides finally to stick by the number 24, can it show us all the letters of authorization from the government for the four bureaucrats to join its board?

(e) There is a lot more I can point out.
For example, in the MoA showing 16 members, Mr. Rajat Gupta − a US citizen − has given the registered address of PHFI as his address, which would be unacceptable for such function as registration of society under law.

In the same MoA, Messrs Reddy and Mashelkar have given their office addresses (AIIMS and CSIR), which is an illegality − within the larger illegality that they were prohibited by the rules as government employees to participate in the formation of such an organization and from soliciting funds; they had no authorization from any public authority for doing so, I have been informed under RTI Act.

The following is the email written by Dr. Giridhar R. Babu of PHFI.
Prabir’s question made me respond to this.
Firstly, the entire matter is under appellate process at PHFI and would be resolved at the earliest.
From what I found out, here are the facts:-
1. The names are entered correctly in the document provided to Mr.Bajaj.
2. The designations were wrong and was entirely due to the clerical error of a junior staff who entered the current designation instead of earlier designations.
3. This was an inadvertent error, a clerical one, without any reason behind it.
4. These minor and harmless errors were not noticed by PIO. Subsequently Dr.Srinath Reddy has seen the names but not taken cognizance of the incorrect designations.

It is clear that there was erroneous information provided but it was inadvertent, minor and without any intention to hide any information. A strong term such as "forgery" can be used when the erroneous information is provided with view of 'material gain' or "malicious intention". However, in this case, it was purely a clerical error without any intentions. Also, there is no date mentioned beneath the signature of Dr.Reddy. If he had mentioned date, then it would could have been construed as deliberate attempt to provide wrong information. Every organization will have some clerical errors as part of their routine activities.

The earlier information was sent in good faith. After completion of appellate authority's action, Mr.Bajaj will be sent in the response from PHFI. What we have here is an obvious clerical error that was not subsequently noticed by PIO. I am certain that the response of PHFI would be made available in public domain soon after completion of action by appellate authority, before which I thought this response would help to allay some misconceptions.

warm regards,
Giridhar R Babu

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