The former medical director of the Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, in Maharashtra’s Raigad district, Dr Sanjay Thakur was approached by representatives of Reliance Industries Limited in early November 2020, with a settlement offer to withdraw his case of illegal termination against the business house. Thakur was fired in June 2017, a few months after he reported various instances of financial irregularities, mismanagement and corporate-governance failure at DAH, to RIL’s ethics committee. The nature of Thakur’s complaints made him a whistle-blower, and after his dismissal, Thakur further escalated his complaints to the Securities and Exchange Board of India, or SEBI, and other state and central government authorities. Thakur told me that the settlement offer at the end of 2020 was an inducement to withdraw all his complaints, across forums.
Thakur was the medical director of the DAH from January 2015 to 26 June 2017. He first approached RIL’s ethics committee, known as the Ethics and Compliance Task Force, via an email on 19 January 2017. The mail highlighted irregularities and mismanagement of funds, including delays in repairs, purchases, and escalated bills at the DAH, bringing to the fore some of the reasons for the hospital’s steady decline and failure. Over the next few months, he escalated his complaints to senior RIL officials, including Mukesh Ambani. Thakur’s complaints were not addressed and initially, the company transferred Thakur overnight. When Thakur pointed out the legal hurdles in these transfer orders and refused to join, he was fired. Thakur’s wife Vidya was also employed at DAH as a senior medical officer at the hospital’s anti-retro viral, or ART, centre for people living with HIV-AIDS. She, too, was fired soon after Thakur’s dismissal.
There is ample evidence that Thakur’s allegations regarding the functioning of DAH were not unfounded. From 2017 to 2020, multiple inspection reports and communications from the health authorities of Maharashtra, as well as media reports from this period, all confirm that the issues of lack of equipment and staff and overpricing of services persisted at DAH even after Thakur was fired.
Beginning July 2017, Thakur approached SEBI, the ministry of finance, the ministry of corporate affairs, the health department of Maharashtra, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office and the President’s Secretariat. In his complaints to each of them, he listed a series of wrongdoings. These included failure of vigil mechanisms, whistle-blower victimisation, failure to follow the process of disclosure of whistle-blower complaints, and CSR irregularities by RIL, Reliance Hospital Management Services Private Limited, which runs DAH, and Reliance Foundation. The foundation implements RIL’s CSR projects. Subsequently, in July 2018, Thakur challenged his dismissal in a Mumbai City Civil Court.
Thakur said that for over two years, SEBI and the MCA have consistently stonewalled his complaints against the business house. SEBI has closed at least ten complaints filed by Thakur since 2017, while forwarding the sections of his complaints dealing with CSR to the MCA. On the other hand, according to communication between Thakur and the MCA, an investigation initiated by the MCA, in 2018, appears to have not proceeded further while another inquiry started in October 2020 is still ongoing. The documents further reveal that both SEBI and MCA accepted RIL’s responses to Thakur’s complaints without any independent probe and forwarded the same to Thakur. This points to a failure in monitoring and regulating the provisions for whistle-blowers and CSR compliance at one of India’s largest public-listed companies. Barely a month after the MCA’s latest inquiry, Shrinivas Shanbag, the former director of RHMSPL, initiated negotiations for the settlement offer.