By Raman Kirpal
IN THE past two years, Minister of State with independent charge of the Ministry of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has blazed a trail that gladdened ecologists and dismayed corporates and politicians.
But in one case, the dynamic minister blinked. In effect, he undid the work done by young Haryana Indian Forest Service officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi, who had unearthed a number of irregularities, including the grabbing of forest land in Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary (TEHELKA,The Cross of Courage, 13 February 2010). The Supreme Court had appreciated his efforts and even slapped a fine of Rs. 1 crore on the state and the forest officials involved.
The state government not only paid the fine on behalf of these erring officials from the state exchequer, it also shelled out a legal fee of Rs. 1.5 crore of taxpayer money to fight the case in the Supreme Court.
A 2002 batch Haryana cadre officer, Chaturvedi paid heavily for acting according to his conscience: he had five criminal cases slapped on him, among them criminal intimidation, bribery, stealing a small tree and even abetment to suicide, when one of the 40 forest officials suspended by him in a corruption case committed suicide (a case now closed for lack of evidence). The state government, however, persisted with the chargesheet.
When he appealed to the President of India on 30 August 2010, action was swift. The Cabinet Secretariat forwarded his representation in two days to the MoEF secretary. Fifteen days later, the MoEF set up a two-member committee headed by Inspector General of Forests (Wildlife) AK Srivastava to inquire into Chaturvedi’s harassment. Its report, submitted on 30 December 2010, is telling. “It would not be enough in this case to merely bring an end to the more-than-three-year-long disciplinary proceedings going on against the officer on the basis of a noticeably fabricated and illegal chargesheet (perhaps it is for the first time in the administrative history of the country that an All India Service officer has been openly suspended/chargesheeted for implementing the order of the Supreme Court and for doing his statutory duty in preventing misuse of public funds), but also strongest possible action must be taken against the culprits in this case so as to make this an example of ‘zero tolerance for corruption’ as enunciated by the Cabinet Secretary, in his much-talked about letter written on 3 March 2010 to all the civil servants, which verbatim also forms part of this report. Such an action would also be very much in conformity with the proactive role undertaken by the Honourable MoS (Environment & Forest), especially in recent times,’’ the report reads.
The report drafted by Assistant Inspector General of Forests Shally Ranjan, the other member on the committee, recommended a CBI inquiry against all involved in the harassment of Chaturvedi and in the multi-crore scams, besides revoking of the chargesheet. Srivastava, the senior member, however, removed the word ‘CBI’ from the report and recommended a probe by an ‘appropriate investigating agency’.
Finally, the amended report was submitted to Secretary (Environment and Forest) Vijay Sharma on 30 December 2010, just a day before his retirement. Sharma diluted the report with the sentence: “The state government should be asked to inquire into any irregularities in the ministry’s schemes.”
Jairam Ramesh fell in line by writing, “Please do the needful immediately.’’ His vigilance officer issued a letter (on 19 January) that the chargesheet against Chaturvedi be revoked with immediate effect. But it did not order a CBI inquiry.
With the result that the very state government that is guilty of allowing misuse of forest land is being trusted to look into the matter.