"Leaving charge without passing these orders would have been an act of cowardice."
Why did Ashok Khemka, Haryana IAS officer, order an inquiry into alleged undervaluation of Robert Vadra’s land deals and cancel the mutation of 3.53 acres in Shikohpur, Gurgaon, even after he had been served with transfer orders on October 11? Was it within his jurisdiction to pass these two orders and did he act selectively against Mr. Vadra as has been alleged by a three-member committee that indicted him last December?
In his detailed reply to these allegations, Mr. Khemka has said that “leaving charge without passing these orders would have been an act of cowardice and betrayal of public trust…. And to abdicate the responsibility just because VVIPs are involved in the sham transaction would amount to dereliction of duty.”
Mr. Khemka’s repeated queries, asking the committee to provide him with any representation or appeal that might have been received from Mr. Vadra or his company, Skylight Hospitality, DLF Universal Ltd or Onkareshwar Properties against the cancellation of their land mutation, met with no response. He notes: “When Mr. Vadra was not ostensibly aggrieved with the inquiry, why and how are some functionaries in the State government aggrieved instead? Is the same yardstick applied for an ordinary citizen?”
Mr. Khemka further alleges that the Committee, instead of answering the references made before it by the order of the Chief Secretary, decided to frame its “own issues which were grossly biased with the sole aim to give a clean chit to the land licensing transactions of Mr. Vadra’s company and to hide from public glare other land licensing transactions indulged by the companies owned by Mr. Vadra in collusion with the State government departments.”
And in the process of indicting Mr. Khemka, the “committee completely departed from the principles of natural justice, namely no one should be made a judge in his own cause and the rule that no one should be condemned unheard.” Mr. Khemka points out that committee chairman Krishan Mohan was Financial Commissioner Revenue and K.K. Jalan was Principal Secretary, Deparment of Town and Country Planning at the time when the licence of Skylight Hospitality was wrongly renewed by the government on January 18, 2011. “Since their own acts of commission and omission were under the scanner…. these two officers could not be expected to be objective and fair,” he adds.
When he was transferred at 10 p.m. on October 11, Mr. Khemka shot off a letter to the Chief Secretary, protesting against the action, because the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules 1954 provide for a minimum tenure of two years. While he waited over the next two days (that were holidays) for a decision from the Chief Secretary, he continued functioning as the Director-General of Consolidation of Land Holdings and Inspector-General of Registration (IGR) till the evening of October 15, during which he passed the two orders, now held as ‘inappropriate and administratively improper’ by the government committee. This, he says is “akin to a situation where a crime by a VVIP is reported to the station house officer of a police station, but as soon as steps are taken to register a FIR, the SHO’s transfer order is wired. Whether the SHO should fulfil his responsibility of registering the FIR before relinquishing charge of his office would ever remain an unresolved dilemma especially when the topmost decision makers in government are accused of the crime.”
His first order on October 12 in his capacity as IGR was to order an enquiry into alleged undervaluation of Mr. Vadra’s land deals, issued to the Registrars of Gurgaon, Faridabad, Mewat and Palwal. Deputy Commissioners of these districts are notified as Registrars under Section 6 of the Registration Act by the government. They were directed to estimate the real value of the properties conveyed through the registered documents by October 25 and the names of some of Mr. Vadra’s companies were also given. He says that passing the order on October 12 was necessitated because the enquiry initiated by him on October 8, “was sought to be stymied by the premature transfer….. no matter how great the personal cost.”
His second order on October 15, cancelling the land deal mutation (not given effect after his transfer) between M/s Skylight Hospitality and DLF Universal Ltd has been severely criticised by the Committee as being “hasty, taken without due legal examination... and without applying the rules of natural justice.” While rebutting each of these charges, his reply to the persistent allegation that he acted selectively in the case of Mr Vadra, is, “Had the committee been fair and heard me this charge would not have arisen.” Because, in his short 80 days stay in the department, there were two other orders of a similar nature. In the first case from Hissar, the assistant consolidation officer (ACO) was chargesheeted and sanction for his prosecution was given. In the second case relating to village Chirsi in Faridabad the order of ACO was set aside and challenged before the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Krishan Mohan, being Financial commissioner, Revenue, was aware of the writ petition and had also approved the response of the department filed in the court. “To ignore the existence of the order which is the subject matter of the writ petition was not fair act on his part,” says Mr. Khemka.