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The sorry case of a whistle-blower IAS officer

By Nitin Sethi
April 03, 2015 16:48 IST
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Whistle-blower officer Ashok Khemka has been shunted again, in breach of rules by BJP government in Haryana. All actions of the previous Congress govt against him still stand even as the Narendra Modi government has chosen to keep away. Nitin Sethi reports

Breaking rules and regulations, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Haryana transferred whistle-blower Indian Administrative Service officer, Ashok Khemka, within 128 days of posting him as transport commissioner in the state, sending him now to the archaeology department. The rules say an officer should be posted on a tenure of at least two years.

Despite the change of Union and state governments, the chargesheet and other career-threatening actions of the previous Congress government in Haryana against the officer remain alive. They have not been resolved by either the Union government (cadre-controlling authority for IAS officers) or the state government. Either could have done so under the rules that govern officers such as Khemka.

Reacting to the news of his transfer, Khemka tweeted, “Tried hard to address corruption and bring reforms in Transport, despite severe limitations and entrenched interests. Moment is truly painful (sic).”

Khemka had suffered this fate, time and again, under the previous Congress government in the state when Bhupinder Singh Hooda was chief minister. This is the 46th transfer of the IAS officer in 22 years.

After Khemka dug out details of the land deals of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the then government in the state chargesheeted the officer, for major penalties.

A chargesheet for major penalties can lead to dismissal from service. He was charged with wrongly cancelling the land agreement involving Vadra. Khemka was additionally accused of speaking to the media against the government.

The Hooda government also put a black mark on his Annual Confidential Report (ACR), labelling him an officer of ‘doubtful integrity’. Such remarks permanently damage the prospects of a serving officer, as he cannot be promoted or put on any sensitive or important posting.

Even as Khemka got shunted repeatedly by the Hooda government, a vigilance inquiry was ordered against him when he blew the lid off another scam in the state.

The Congress government finally transferred him to the state archives department, also violating the two-year fixed tenure norm that the present Manohar Lal Khattar government has broken this time.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising Vadra’s deals during his election campaign, expectations had gained ground that the National Democratic Alliance government would review all the charges and adverse actions against Khemka.

There were also reports, never officially confirmed, that Khemka would be brought to Delhi on a central deputation and could be posted as a joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Since then, the office of the Union Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) presented a report validating Khemka’s findings in the Vadra deals.

Under the rules governing All India Service officers, the Centre holds absolute power to quash any actions of a state government against an IAS officer, even if the officer is serving in the state and not on a central deputation. The Modi government has done no such thing.

In contrast, this was done in the case of another whistle-blower from the Haryana cadre, Sanjiv Chaturvedi of the Indian Forest Service.

After the Hooda government had hounded him, also for blowing the lid off several scams, the Union government intervened to expunge adverse remarks from his ACR, upgrade it, dismiss the chargesheets and revoke his suspension orders.

He was then brought to the Union government on deputation and posted as the Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO) of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

A Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry was recommended against senior officials and politicians of the then Haryana government. But the Hooda government never permitted one and neither has the BJP government till date.

Since then, Chaturvedi has also been removed, by the BJP-led NDA government, as CVO of AIIMS; a BJP leader, J P Nadda, demanded this, asking for a stop to all anti-corruption probes by the officer.

Nadda later became the Union health minister, too! Chaturvedi’s plea for change of cadre from Haryana to Uttarakhand, on the argument of continued hardship in his parent cadre, was also recently put in cold storage by the Prime Minister-led Appointments Committee of the Cabinet.

The committee is at present, for all practical purposes, solely run by the PM’s Office.

Meanwhile, Khemka continues to live with the blots the Congress government put on his career record. When the CAG report mentioning the Vadra deals was tabled, Khemka tweeted, “My action in VADRA-DLF land-license deal vindicated in CAG report, but continue to suffer the stigma of charge sheet (sic) .”

And, “Bureaucratic inertia is regressive, goads a new but unsure political executive to repeat mistakes of the past, using the alibi of governance.”

Hints of trouble that he was facing while posted as transport commissioner emerge from his other tweets. On January 5, he said, “60 per cent of road accidents due to overloaded and over-sized transport vehicles. Industry cooperation needed to stop this road menace. The choice is between road safety, protection of public property and environment on one side and private profits on the other.”

On March 17: “Liberalise public transport services to bridge the demand-supply gap. Illegal buses meet unmet demand partly but deprive the state of revenues.”

On the day of his transfer, late at night Khemka said, “Tried hard to address corruption and bring reforms in Transport despite severe limitations and entrenched interests. Moment is truly painful.”

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