Is the transfer done to prevent him from spilling beans before court?
Ashok Khemka, an IAS officer in Haryana who was transferred in October last for cancelling an allegedly irregular land deal between Robert Vadra, son-in-law of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, and DLF, was again shifted on Thursday amid a raging controversy over irregularities in the Haryana Seeds Development Corporation (HSDC) that he unearthed during his short tenure of five months as its head.
Mr. Khemka, a Secretary in the Haryana government, was replaced by B.S. Duggal, a Deputy Secretary five ranks below him, without being given a written order. He was told to download his transfer order from the Internet and proceed as Secretary, Archives Department.
In recent weeks, Mr. Khemka had earned the ire of the government for exposing an alleged scam in the purchase of a fungicide Raxil, for treatment of wheat seeds from Bayer Crop Science. In March, he registered a complaint with the CBI but the government rejected it saying “he was not competent to do so”.
PIL plea in court
A fortnight ago, a Bhiwani-based NGO, the Bhiwani Sudhar and Vikas Samiti filed a PIL petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, alleging the same irregularities and demanding a CBI probe. The court issued notice to the State government, the Union Agriculture Secretary, the Central Insecticide Board, the HSDC and the Haryana Agriculture University (HAU), for April 12. Samiti president Pawan Kumar Anchar told The Hindu: “Since Mr. Khemka in his capacity as MD of HSDC was to give his reply to the notice, the government was unnerved that he would present the true picture before the court. This is why he has been transferred in such a hurry.” Dr. Duggal, who replaced Mr. Khemka and will be replying to the court’s notice, is a party in the case because he was a member of the 11-member committee that took the decision to purchase Raxil in October 2010.
The matter relates to purchase of Raxil used for treatment of Flag Smut, Loose Smut and Karnal Bunt in wheat seeds, at a higher rate without tendering, and then being sold to farmers on subsidy. The problem is that Raxil is not certified for treatment of Karnal Bunt by the Central Insecticide Board and the Registration Committee and this was admitted to by Bayer. Since 2010-2011 the Haryana Agriculture department had made use of Raxil 2 per cent DS compulsory for treatment of wheat seeds as a pre-condition for their certification and it is being sold to farmers with the assurance that it would control Karnal Bunt (a fungal disease) also. Its use was, however, recommended by the HAU.
The government spent Rs. 60 crore to buy 150 tonnes of Raxil for three years.
In a recent letter to the Financial Commissioner Agriculture Mr Roshan Lal, Mr. Khemka had pointed out, “Even after the use of Raxil on 15 lakh hectares of wheat crop in the State for three consecutive years, the HAU or Bayer Crop Science has not obtained registration of Raxil for treatment of Karnal bunt, on the basis of field results. The use of public money for purchase of this weedicide for treatment of Karnal bunt, too, is an offence under Section 29 of the Insecticides Act, 1968.”
It was humiliating, says Khemka
Ashok Khemka, IAS officer in Haryana, who was transferred again on Thursday, said it was not a routine transfer.
Asked if he was being targeted, he said, “I guess so. It was not a routine transfer. It was a one-off transfer.”
“And the transfer this time was quite humiliating. At 3:30 p.m, an officer of the rank of Under Secretary of the government, at least five levels below me, appeared with an order of the Principal Secretary of the Agriculture, appointing him as the MD of the Corporation and asked me to step down,” Mr. Khemka told news channels.
“It was surprising as the order did not come from the Chief Secretary or delivered to me... I am surprised that such a junior officer, whose name was in a couple of scams busted in this organisation, has been appointed,” he said.