It is no easy task to ask uncomfortable questions and point out irregularities. Civil servant Ashok Khemka who did just that, talks about the isolation and hostility that comes along with it
Ashok Khemka is the civil servant from Haryana who has been making headlines ever since he pointed out irregularities in a land deal involving Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, Robert Vadra and DLF, last October. He was promptly shifted to the Haryana Seeds DevelopmentCorporation within a day of his cancelling the land deal mutation. And now, less than six months later, after detecting an alleged scam in seed subsidy to farmers, the officer has been unceremoniously transferred yet again.
This is his 44th transfer in a career spanning 22 years, but even by the standards of animosity that Khemka generates whenever he unearths irregularities, the last two have been the most vicious and by far the most humiliating experiences in his sterling career. Just what does it take to be an Ashok Khemka? What is the personal price that officers like him have to pay for being upright and be able to do their jobs with honesty and integrity? Read on, in an exclusive interview with The Hindu.
The last few months have been very eventful, with you unearthing scams in one department after another. Was it tough?
Unearthing the wrongdoing was not tough. It is my job to do so. But managing the fallout has been trying both on the personal and professional front. The threats, intimidation, humiliations, media clamour, etc. have been extremely disturbing for me and my family.
Besides cancelling the Robert Vadra – DLF land deal, you had initiated many reforms in the Consolidation and Land Records during your short stay of 80 days there. What happened to them?
I was streamlining registration data of all land records by making them web based to be available online. To prevent misuse of registered sale deeds, I had also made rules under Section 69 of the Registration Act prescribed that from October, 2013, Adhaar numbers would be compulsory for vendor and vendee in land transactions. But the government did not notify the rules for unknown reasons. After my transfer, I learnt that both Mumbai and Delhi have notified similar conditions. Professionally I felt very let down, as all the data is sitting in silos, instead of being available online for anyone to check.
But, Adhaar number is made compulsory for the poor as in PDS, social security pensions, etc. This is where there is a disconnect between policies of the state where it mandates that the poor will have to abide by all the regulations no matter how high the costs of transaction, but the not-so-poor get all the concessions.
You have said that your latest transfer from MD of Haryana Seeds Development Corporation was the most humiliating experience.
It was indeed. I had this subordinate sitting in my office saying that I have to relinquish charge to him without the transfer order being served upon me by the Government. But more worryingly, I can see that appointing this particular person in my place is a deliberate and sinister attempt to cover up the misdeeds of the last three or four years that were being uncovered. He is privy and part of the policy formulation that led to the prescription of RAXIL as fungicide. This fungicide is not approved for control of Karnal bunt disease in wheat crop, but its use is made mandatory for treatment of all certified wheat seeds at public cost.
You seem to have become persona non grata in the Haryana bureaucracy, too. How are you coping?
I do get a feeling nowadays that my family is suffering for my actions. Take Holi. A joint celebration was organised in a colleague’s house in our colony, but we were not invited. The host probably thought that if he had invited me, he may fall foul of the establishment. Some days ago, a senior colleague who has been a very good mentor and friend in the past was due to retire, and I wanted to meet him to pay my respects. He said he would give me time, but did not. These things hurt badly.
You have often spoken of receiving threats. What kind of threats are these? And who are the people behind it?
These things keep happening, but I would like to relate a hair-raising experience that I experienced a couple of weeks ago when the Yamunanagar District Consumer Forum issued non-bailable warrants against me for alleged non-execution of an order which was executed before my joining the Seeds Corporation. Even as I moved an application for recall of the non-bailable warrant, in the evening I received a call from a person claiming to be the President of the Consumer Forum, advising me about the long arm of the law. The non-bailable warrant was a malicious tampering with the record of judicial proceedings. The unlawful NBW was issued against me when there was nothing to execute on the date I took over as Managing Director of the Corporation on 15.10. 2013. I called up the Chief Minister and remonstrated against the abuse of high offices to victimise me. I also informed the Chief Secretary of the matter. A written complaint has been made to the competent authority. But till date, no action has been taken against the President of the Forum. This is extremely intimidating to a public servant who is trying his best to be dutiful and conscientious in the discharge of his duties.