Gritty IAS official seeks PM's intervention

MUMBAI Oct. 5. Arun Bhatia, a senior IAS official in Maharashtra, who is due to retire in about a month from now, was years ago described by the Chief Secretary, R. D. Pradhan, as " an exceptional officer who did not endear himself to superiors, but won acclaim of the press and the public.'' His continuing inability to "endear himself " to his bosses — both political and bureaucratic — has seen him walking into trouble, once too often.

Recently, he appealed to the Prime Minister, saying "I have paid the price'' for the conflict with seniors, by frequent way of transfers, insignificant postings, bad reports, denial of promotions, death threats et al, " because I tried to enforce honesty in a highly corrupt third world bureaucracy.''

Mr. Bhatia, who had sought the Prime Minister action against some officials who were lax in their duty, saw his promotion being blocked.

The issue went to tribunals and courts and, ultimately to the Union Public Service Commission, which wanted him prematurely retired. The Department of Personnel differed and wanted only a "minor penalty" of censure.

The Maharashtra Government, however, wrote back to the Department of Personnel that Mr. Bhatia's punishment should not be reduced, since the UPSC's recommendations were normally accepted.

In 1999, the Bombay High Court had held a transfer of Mr. Bhatia, in one instance, as being " in the nature of punishment.'' It said, "honesty, as per law deserves a pat, rather than a punishment.''

All along in his career, Mr. Bhatia had detected scandals including land use beyond the permissible limits in Mumbai and corruption in the employment guarantee schemes.

He prepared enough documentation on corruption in the Pune Municipal Corporation, which led to a PIL in the High Court. But "insignificant" postings had not deterred him from taking on the establishment.

As the Director of the Tribal Research and Training Institute, Pune, he refuted the claim of the Ministers of Tribal Development, Health and Social Justice, that there were no deaths in Thane's tribal areas due to malnutrition.

He had done so earlier with the Nandurbar tribal deaths as well, but only this time, it resulted in a show-cause notice being issued to him to which he had responded point by point.

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