Ashok Khemka’s trial by media has shifted the spotlight away from Robert Vadra's questionable land dealings and the chance to investigate them further

Ever since Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s 100-page submission to the State government raising serious questions about the Robert Vadra-DLF land deal and other issues was reported in The Hindu on August 10, he has been closely questioned on the contents of his note by television channels. That is only to be expected, as Mr. Khemka has attacked none other than a member of the nation’s top ruling family.

But as the media dissect the details of the officer’s note, and scrutinise his every statement for inconsistencies, the irony of directing these questions at him instead of Robert Vadra himself is inescapable. Every media head knows that the man who has been described by the Congress party as a ‘private citizen’ will not subject himself to such an inquisition. It is easier to ask Mr. Khemka to provide ‘proof’ to support his assertions, which many mistakenly assume to be the conclusions of a definitive investigation. The complete silence from the other end is just one of the many significant elements that have been glossed over in this entire episode.

Limited investigation

Mr. Khemka’s findings are only the result of a preliminary enquiry conducted by him with the help of very limited material that was available to him. His abrupt transfer on October 11, after he asked the deputy commissioners of Gurgaon, Faridabad and Mewat to scrutinise Mr. Vadra’s property transactions in those areas, ensured that he would have no access to the relevant information. Later, the three-member committee tasked by the Haryana government to look into the deal gave Mr. Vadra a clean chit and indicted Mr. Khemka without giving him an opportunity to present his case.

Further, when he asked for documents relating to the sale and licensing of the land sold by Mr. Vadra’s M/s Skylight Hospitality to DLF Universal, to reply to his indictment, the departments of Town and Country Planning, Commerce and Industries, and Revenue not only refused to provide him the material but some also responded offensively.

So, what Mr. Khemka has presented before the government are his limited findings based on publicly available documents, which need to be opened up for larger investigation by an impartial agency. The urgency for such an impartial investigation, which could prove or disprove Mr. Khemka’s allegations, seems to have been lost in the din that has followed his disclosures. The focus, instead, is on putting him under the lens and getting him to accept that his assertions on the land deal are based on “inference” and not “fact”.

Similarly, the larger issue of a flourishing black market trade in licenses that Mr. Khemka’s note on the Vadra-DLF deal exposes, has been brushed aside. Perhaps the officer overreached himself in exposing these questionable practices. It is also possible that he misinterpreted as illegal some aspects of the deal that could be passed off as an “impropriety” or “ethical misconduct”, as is being speculated by some news anchors. Let a probe establish that. Either way, his contribution in turning the spotlight on such rampant malpractices by homing in on a member of the nation’s top political family, who clearly made windfall gains on the strength of his proximity to the ruling dispensation, is undeniable.

Unanswered question

The one question that he raised and which no one is addressing is: If the worth of Mr. Vadra’s land went up by Rs.40 crore in just 65 days only because he got a commercial colony licence during this period, shouldn’t this money (earned by scores of other brokers in a similar manner) accrue to the government instead by way of licensing fee? Are not most such licences actually favours distributed to political cronies when everyone knows that the real developer is a real estate biggie and not these smaller companies who are cornering the licences and acting as brokers?

So as the media inquisition of Mr. Khemka grabs eyeballs, eclipsing some of the more critical issues that he has raised, it begs the question: is the media inadvertently being just as unfair to him as the Haryana government has been?

It is also ironical that the Khemka bombshell that has hit the UPA government in its last days is largely the making of its own Congress government in Haryana. If it was not for the sustained and systematic gagging and humiliation of this officer in the last few months, his reply might have been milder. The joke inHaryana’s ruling circles is that by taking away important departments from Mr. Khemka, the government gave him ample free time to craft his sledgehammer reply on which he worked undisturbed for three months.

The zeal with which he attempted to clear his name over the indictment by the government probe panel quite obviously stemmed from the sheer injustice of having two officers sitting in judgement over his actions under whose watch some of the controversial permissions were given. It rankled, as did the sudden cold shoulder from friends and colleagues in the government who did not want to be seen with him after his fall from favour.

In the last one year he has been transferred four times and is now the Director-General State Archives with very little work to do. As Director-General Social Justice and Empowerment Mr. Khemka won the SKOCH Financial Inclusion award for his Atate in 2012 for transferring Rs. 550 crore of social security benefits to two million bank accounts, that saved the State exchequer Rs.75 crore. Keeping valuable manpower like him without work is a luxury the Haryana government can ill afford, both politically and administratively.

chander.dogra@thehindu.co.in

More In: Comment | Opinion