Khemka transfer: The more things change?


Whistleblower IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s transfer has exposed the hollowness of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s commitment to propriety and good governance. The instance has also underlined the party’s desire to continue the rotten system that the Congress had created in Haryana (Khemka is from the Haryana cadre) and the country at large. The much-harassed officer has been transferred 45 times in his career spanning 24 years.

The same BJP had earlier supported Khemka when he had pointed out irregularities in allotment of land to Robert Vadra in the state. On November 1, 2012, BJP leader Balbir Punj said, “Mr. Khemka is one of the few honest and upright officers, who had tried to take an objective view of this entire racket, he has been threatened and transferred.”

That was then. Now, the “honest and upright” officer has been transferred by the government which is run by Punj’s own party. Posted in November last year as Transport Commissioner and Secretary in the state, he has been removed from there to take the dual charge of Secretary and Director General, Archaeology and Museums Department.

It is the same pattern, as the officer himself disclosed. He tweeted, “Tried hard to address corruption and bring reforms in Transport despite severe limitations and entrenched interests. Moment is truly painful.”

The pain could have been much greater, Mr. Khemka. There is the recent case of D.K. Ravi, the IAS officer who died in mysterious circumstances in Karnataka which the state government is determined to prove as suicide. And IPS officer Narendra Kumar Singh, who was allegedly killed by sand mafia in Madhya Pradesh and whose father is still fighting for justice. And Shanmugam Manjunath, the Indian Oil Corp officer who was murdered because he dared to take on adulterators in UP. And Satyendra Dubey, the Indian Engineering Service who was murdered in Gaya, Bihar, for fighting corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral Highway construction project. And Muthukumarasamy, the Tamil Nadu agriculture department engineer, who committed suicide on February 20, allegedly under political pressure from a minister’s office. The list is long.

There was a time when the ‘inconvenient’ officers in administration and police were harassed, the most common form of harassment being transfer, by their bosses. Over the years, however, the political class has lost patience with such ‘obstinate’ officers. Why can’t they just behave themselves? Don’t they know how the system works? Arre bhai, they can’t be allowed to subvert the system; their subversion is sinful; and the wages of sin is death. QED.

This is the syllogism that more and more netas are getting convinced with.

At the same time, our political masters maintain the pretense of propriety and wage the phony word war against each other. So, typically, Haryana’s Transport Minister Ram Bilas Sharma has called the transfer a “routine” matter. “Transfer is not a punishment, a promotion or demotion. Transfer of senior officers is a routine matter. There is nothing special or extraordinary about it,” he said.

Had the Congress been in power in the state, its ministers would have said the same thing. With similar disingenuousness.

Press Trust of India, however, had a different story to tell. In a report, it said, “Notably, as Transport Commissioner, Khemka had refused to issue fitness certificates to over-sized trucks and trailers for carrying automobiles, leading to a truckers’ strike in January.”

Later, PTI added, the truckers in Haryana withdrew their strike after the state government gave them one year’s time to get their vehicles modified as per the Central Motor Vehicle Rules (CMVR), 1989. Evidently, the transport lobby managed to get the officer removed from the post.

Challenge the vested interests and get badgered—that was Congress’ message to bureaucrats. Challenge the vested interests and get badgered—that is the BJP’s message to bureaucrats. Work honestly and get into trouble—that was the norm during Congress rule. Work honestly and get into trouble—that remains the norm while the BJP is in office. The more things change, the more they remain the same.