‘I was doing my duty,’ insists IAS officer

In a reaction to The Hindu’s story about the transfer of a senior official probing the land deals between Robert Vadra and realtor giant DLF, the Haryana government on Tuesday issued a four-page press statement insisting that Ashok Khemka — the IAS officer sent packing from the post of Inspector-General of Registration and Director General Land Consolidation — had been posted out on the orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and not for instituting any inquiries.

Among other issues, the State government also took exception to the officer’s orders cancelling the mutation of Mr. Vadra’s Manesar land deal with DLF on the ground that since he had been transferred on October 11, it was not proper for him to issue orders for an enquiry and the cancellation of the deal on October 12 and 15 respectively.

Speaking to The Hindu on Tuesday night, Mr. Khemka — an IAS officer with a reputation for integrity who has been transferred 43 times in a career spanning two decades — rejected the Haryana government’s claims.

He noted that though he had requested the Chief Secretary to transfer him, as the Haryana government release said, this was only from the post of special collector — another charge held by him which was below his rank and the appellate for which lay with officers who were junior to him in service. “But I had never asked them to relieve me as Director-General Land Consolidation. The government is trying to mix two things,” he said. This is also what he told the High Court on October 1, following which the court issued an order directing the Haryana government to post someone else as Special Collector and to relieve Mr. Khemka of the charge.

Mr. Khemka reiterated the fact that he was issued his transfer orders at 10 pm on October 11, after he had issued written instructions to the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to procure land registration data from the districts that had not submitted this to him when he had asked them to do so. He had an argument with the deputy commissioner of one of the key districts under the scanner that morning over the latter’s failure to send the data. “I told this officer that if he did not do so, I would issue him a DO letter, and I followed this up, by issuing a written authorisation to the NIC to procure the data.”

Since he had already begun making enquiries into a host of other land deals in the NCR — which also included the Vadra-DLF deals following allegations of irregularities in the media — by summoning the relevant land records, word of his actions had begun to filter out to the higher echelons of the State Secretariat. After being served transfer orders late that evening, Mr. Khemka sent a stinging letter of protest to the Chief Secretary the next day, on October 12, alleging mala fide. He followed this up by ordering a formal enquiry on alleged ‘undervaluation of some properties registered by Robert Vadra or his companies.’ After scrutinizing the sale deed and other documents connected with one of the deals in Manesar, Mr. Khemka cancelled the mutation on October 15.

Both of his actions — the inquiry and the cancellation — have invited censure from the Haryana government, which has questioned how he could do this when he had been transferred on the 11th of October. Says Mr. Khemka: “I had sent my letter to the Chief Secretary on October 12 and was waiting for a reply from him. I held on to the charge in protest till the 15th, but when I did not hear from him, I issued the order on the Shikohpur–Manesar deal and then relinquished charge of the department. As the head of the department I was only doing my duty to clear the department of any allegation of wrongdoing.”

The Haryana government also points out that contrary to Mr. Khemka’s order cancelling the mutation, the Assistant Consolidation Officer is authorized to sanction all pending mutations as a matter of practice, after due verification of the records and that there was no irregularity in his doing so.

Mr. Khemka’s response is that the entire sale of the land to DLF was questionable since the land was under consolidation and ordinarily the sale deed ought to have been set aside. But since he was not the revenue authority to do so, he could not cancel the sale. But he did have the authority to cancel the mutation which, according to the Punjab Land Revenue Act, should have been done by a revenue officer.

The Haryana government’s rebuttal is silent on some key issues raised by Mr. Khemka’s order, especially how the Town and Country Planning Department gave permission to M/s Skylight Ltd to sell the land which was under consolidation, or how the department issued the company a licence to develop a housing colony and renewed the same later when he had entered into an agreement to sell the land to DLF, 15 months earlier and even collected 86.2 per cent of the money.

Curiously, the Chief Secretary of Haryana, when asked by The Indian Express on October 12 about Mr. Khemka’s allegations of a punitive transfer made no reference to the High Court order which figured so prominently in the October 16 Haryana government press release. “Transfers and postings are the prerogative of the State government. There is nothing wrong in it,” he was quoted in the October 13 edition of the newspaper as saying.

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