The transfer of IAS officer Ashok Khemka in the wake of a probe ordered by him into Robert Vadra’s land dealings provoked outraged reactions from across the political spectrum on Tuesday. Mr. Khemka, who was shifted by the Haryana government, was Special Collector as well as Director-General of Land Consolidation and Land Records-cum-Inspector General of Registration.
The Bharatiya Janata Party accused the Congress of revealing its “Emergency mindset” and said that by transferring Mr. Khemka, it had sent out the message that “anybody who questions the first family will not be spared.”
Arvind Kejriwal of India Against Corruption asked the Haryana government to explain its transfer policy. “Can an officer be transferred merely because he was investigating Vadra [son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi]?” For its part, the CPI(M) demanded a thorough probe into the transfer: “A proper investigation must be held.”
The Congress maintained that it was the prerogative of the State government to transfer any officer. “There is no witch-hunt here,” a party spokesperson said.
Reacting to the protests, the Haryana government said in a press release that Mr. Khemka had himself asked to be relieved of the charge of Special Collector “which is traditionally held by Director, Consolidation.” The release said his transfer request came up during the hearing of a criminal writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which on October 1, 2012 ordered the State government to appoint another officer to the post of Special Collector.
The government, however, did not explain why it interpreted the court order to mean that Mr. Khemka had to be divested of all posts when he had asked to shed only the post of Special Collector. Nor did the government say why it had transferred him on October 11, the day he initiated the probe, and not anytime between October 1 and 11. According to Mr. Khemka, the transfer orders reached him at 10 p.m. on October 11. Subsequently, he went a step further and cancelled the mutation of a 3.531-acre plot in Manesar-Shikhopur which Mr. Vadra had sold to DLF for Rs. 58 crore.
The BJP said the transfer needed to be probed especially in view of the suspicion of a quid pro quo in the land dealings. “Had it been a private deal, we would not have made this demand,” party spokesman Prakash Javadekar said. He also wanted to know why the Prime Minister and the Congress president were silent on an issue that had rocked the country.
Charges baseless: Congress
The Congress dismissed as “baseless” charges that the IAS officer was transferred in the wake of his decision to probe the alleged undervaluation of properties dealt with by Mr. Vadra.
“The allegations are baseless. We do not question the integrity of the officer. It is the prerogative of the government to transfer any bureaucrat. The Chief Secretary will be able to brief about the reasons behind the transfer,” party general secretary B.K. Hari Prasad told PTI. Mr. Hari Prasad is in charge of the party affairs in Congress-ruled Haryana.