Chhattisgarh: Bhupesh Baghel proposes law to acquire pvt college owned by son-in-law’s kin

IN WHAT raises questions of conflict of interest, the Chhattisgarh government, in an unusual move, plans to take over, via a law, a financially-strapped medical college owned by a family into which Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel’s daughter has married.

The state government is working on a Bill to acquire privately-owned Chandulal Chandrakar Memorial Medical College in Durg. This college is owned by Chandulal Chandrakar Memorial Hospital (CCMH), an unlisted private company, registered in March 1997.

Chandulal Chandrakar was a Congress leader, a five-term Lok Sabha MP from Durg, and a Union minister in the past. He died in 1995. The hospital was promoted in his memory by the Chandrakar community, and the Director of CCMH is Mangal Prasad Chandrakar. He is one of the 59 shareholders, holding about 4% in the company.

The draft Bill, seen by The Indian Express, says the hospital requested the state government to acquire the college since it was in “financial difficulties”. Many students are studying in the medical college, notes the draft Bill in its ‘Statement of Object and Reasons’, and that the state government is satisfied that an “immediate acquisition” is “necessary in public interest”.

While the liabilities of the college will be that of the owners of CCMH, the state will undertake a valuation exercise of the movable and immovable assets of the college and pay the amount to CCMH, according to the draft Bill.

A section of bureaucrats dealing with the files are, however, “uncomfortable” with the decision, since the

The CM’s daughter, Divya Baghel, is married to Kshitij Chandrakar, whose father Vijay Chandrakar is the younger brother of Mangal Prasad Chandrakar, the Director of CCMH.

The government had swung into action to acquire the college after Baghel announced it almost six months back. On February 2, he had tweeted, “The work to acquire the private hospital under the government will start soon.”

Bureaucrats point to three specific issues that raise a red flag: i) CCMH’s total outstanding debt is Rs 125 crore, of which a large part is unsecured; ii) The medical college being acquired was accused of ‘fraudulent’ activities by the Medical Council of India in its meeting on April 12, 2018, and iii) The college does not even have recognition since 2017.

The Chief Minister’s Office did not respond to a list of questions sent by The Indian Express. When contacted, S Bharatidasan, Director of Public Relations, Chhattisgarh said, “The Bill is going to be presented in this session of Assembly. Until it is presented, no questions about the Bill or its circumstances could be provided by the concerned secretary.”

Kshitij Chandrakar, son-in-law of Baghel, who heads the All India Professional Congress unit in the state, acknowledged MP Chandrakar was his uncle. “The brothers (his father Vijay and uncle Mangal Prasad) had an amicable separation around 6-7 years ago,” he said.

But he said he favoured the acquisition for the “300-odd students” of the college. “If the government is getting a functional college at a price much less than what they would pay to build a new college, while also helping out the students, it is a good and welcome decision,” he said.

Laxman Chandrakar, Executive Director, CCMH, and also a shareholder (3.75%) said the company’s board of directors had requested government intervention after facing economic hardships. “This is not a hidden fact that we have debts on us. We requested the government to save the college,” he said.

Devkumar Chandrakar, also an Executive Director, CCMH, and a shareholder (3.75%) said he was aware of the Bill to be introduced in this session. He also confirmed the college didn’t have recognition since 2017. “We didn’t get recognition for any year since 2017, this year’s recognition from MCI is pending,” he said.

The government, the draft Bill says, will pay Chandulal Chandrakar Memorial Hospital — the owner of the college — an amount to be decided based on the valuation of the movable and immovable properties of the college. A Special Officer, proposed to be appointed, will get a year to submit the valuation of the college’s properties to the government.

According to the draft Bill, the debt of Chandulal Chandrakar Memorial Medical College shall remain the liability of the owner “before the vesting by the Government and can be recovered by their creditors from them by following normal process of law”.

A family member closely related to Chandulal Chandrakar has also blamed the government of nepotism. Amit Chandraker, the grandson of Chandulal Chandrakar’s elder brother Chunnilal Chandrakar, and Joint Secretary, state Congress, told The Indian Express, “The Chief Minister is trying to benefit his (daughter’s) in-laws by making a new law,” he alleged.

Responding to this, Kshitij Chandrakar said, “It is illogical that the same family that didn’t want to do anything with Chandulal ji while he was alive is fighting for him. They just want to capitalise on the name of a great leader.”

Chandulal Chandrakar Memorial Hospital reported turnover of Rs 49.67 crore in 2019-20, 26 per cent less than Rs 67.38 crore in the previous year, according to its financial statements for 2019-20 obtained from the Registrar of Companies. The company’s net worth is fully eroded, and it reported losses of Rs 9.98 crore in 2019-20, higher than losses of Rs 8.55 crore in the previous year.

The company’s total debt for the year-ended March 31, 2020, stood at Rs 125.26 crore, of which unsecured loans accounted for almost 43 per cent or Rs 53.81 crore.

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