New Delhi: Ashok Khemka , the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from the north Indian state of Haryana, is known to have had run-ins with the powers that be even in the past. But this time, he has dared to put his hand in the lion’s mouth, and he is receiving death threats for ‘doing his job’!
Khemka is embroiled in a raging controversy over cancellation of a land deal between real estate giant DLF and Robert Vadra, husband of Priyanka Gandhi.
He had taken action on a blatant case of irregularity in a land transaction. The deal involved Vadra, one of the most powerful non-political persons in the country, who wields enormous clout in the political circle for the fact that he is the son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Khemka detected serious irregularities in land transactions in village Shikohpur in Manesar, Gurgaon. The 3,531 acres land deal, worth several hundred million rupees happened between DLF and Sky Light Hospitality, a company owned by Vadra.
On October 11 at 10pm, barely hours after he initiated investigations, Khemka was handed transfer orders. He was removed as Director General, Consolidation of Land Holdings and Land Records and has been posted as Managing Director, Haryana Seeds Development Corporation.
Khemka is unyielding. In 2004, he had to walk from home to office and back in Chandigarh, as peeved by his honesty, then chief minister of Haryana, Om Prakash Chautala had – so to say – ‘punished’ him. As Director, Education Department, Khemka had refused to obey Chautala’s orders of disturbing the academic schedule mid-session.
He informs, “As a result, I was put in a non-functional post, created especially for me! I was neither assigned any work nor provided official staff or a vehicle.”
The moralistic officer speaks to Gulf News in an exclusive interview.
Having been transferred more than 40 times in 21 years, would you term most transfers as ‘punishment postings’?
Though there is no such thing as ‘punishment’ or ‘reward’ postings, the important thing is that transfers should not be used as an instrument to demoralize an upright office. And if we were to go by this, my personal assessment is that barring 10 to 15, all other transfers were done to punish me for being honest.
Even though a minimum tenure of two years is guaranteed, the Haryana government says transfers are its prerogative. Can you not take recourse of the courts to seek justice?
I think it is too trivial an issue to make it a private matter. I have accepted the transfer and already suffered, as it was both demoralizing and dehumanizing. My focus is always on welfare of the people and I aim to work in the interest of the masses. And since the issue [of land scams] is in public interest and is being widely debated, I want it to be sorted out. The personal issue of my transfer should be sidelined. I could have challenged it in the court of law and am sure it would have been set-aside on two grounds — it violates the law and is malafide.
With reports saying the worst is yet to come, as the Government of India is likely to initiate disciplinary proceedings against you, what will be your next move?
I shall cross the bridge when it comes. I know there is already a lot of mud-slinging, character assassination, intimidation and death threats, which I consider cheap diversionary tactics. When there are any kinds of fears, I try to overcome them through my will power. Death comes to everyone once. The threats do not frighten or concern me. But if the decision makers come out heavily upon me, we shall see.
It has become a norm with people to write a book post-retirement. Can one expect an upright officer of your calibre to be the game changer?
I feel most of the books are written either for publicity or to earn royalty. And none of the two impress me. I am not very erudite in my language and thoughts and only if I were to find a publisher to whom it may be significant in public interest, I might think of writing a book after retirement. I certainly cannot spend time writing at this time when there is an opportunity to work within the system to bring in reforms. I am of the belief that actions speak louder than words.
You think it is opportunism the way leaders of some political parties are lambasting the Haryana government terming your transfer ‘victimization’?
Yes, it is just that. Instead of resorting to such kind of opportunism, they should lead by example. I do not fancy this euphemism that I am not able to adjust in my postings. I am only raising the issues that concern the common man, but these are exploited by a group of people for their own benefit.
Are many top bureaucrats, who are, so to say, ‘pliable’ and swim with the tide, to be blamed for the many ills that the country is facing today?
We cannot generalize and hold this or that class responsible for the ills. But it is really sad that people, who are fortunate to occupy such high positions, don’t do justice to their jobs. They should learn to listen to their conscience, give honest views and do what they think is right.
• Ashok Khemka was born in Kolkata in 1965.
• He completed his early education from St Xavier’s School in Kolkata followed by matriculation in 1982.
• Bachelor of Technology (Computer Science and Engineering) from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur in 1988.
• Cleared the Indian Administrative Service exams in 1991.
• Became the first non-resident scholar to do PhD from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai in 1995.