The pressure is mounting on V Narayanasamy, Minister of State for Personnel and Training (DoPT), to take up the case of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal who was suspended on 28 July for taking on the sand mafia in Uttar Pradesh. But he may recall issuing a confidential note on 16 February 2012, arguing exactly the opposite. The DoPT note told the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that the Centre has no jurisdiction to intervene if states violate Central Acts or protect whistleblowers even if they belong to the All India Services.
This has been the Haryana government’s sole defence against instituting a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigation into the multi-crore forestry scams and violations of forest and wildlife laws flagged off by a whistleblower IFS officer. Even though this was recommended in March 2012 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the CBI itself.
Since May 2012, the PMO has written six times to the DoPT, also headed by Manmohan Singh, asking the department to clarify its note that contradicts a host of Constitutional and legal provisions (see box below). Referring to an interdepartmental (UO) DoPT communication that claimed the matter was forwarded to the Department of Legal Affairs (DLA) intervenfor the Attorney General’s opinion, the last of the PMO reminders in May this year said that “comments in the matter are still awaited and may please be expedited”.
In an RTI reply, the DoPT claimed that the matter had been referred to the DLA back in May 2012. When Tehelka contacted Attorney General GE Vahanvati to inquire why he was sitting on the note for more than a year, his office denied having ever received the file and directed the query to the ministry.
Dinesh Bhardwaj, a joint secretary “handling DoPT” at the DLA, was unavailable and his office refused to take any “question from outside the government”. Sources in the DLA, however, claimed that the file was “sent for processing only towards the end of June”.
It could not be ascertained if the file was sent to the DLA by the DoPT only this June or if it was languishing in the DLA since last May. Despite repeated attempts by Tehelka, neither MoS Narayanasamy nor DoPT secretary Dr Shyamal Kumar Sarkar bothered to respond. The PMO sought the case details but did not respond to an email until the time of going to press. Neither did Bhardwaj reply to queries faxed to the DLA secretary’s office.
“A large section of the political and bureaucratic system is working overtime to shield (Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh) Hooda from the CBI probe by delaying the process. They have no alternative as the (DoPT) note cannot stand legal scrutiny. But the pm himself is the Cabinet minister in charge of the DoPT and it is surprising that he has not thought it appropriate to intervene yet. This is not the question of one state or an individual whistleblower but the very sanctity of All India Services,” rued a senior MoEF official.
The whistleblower in question, IFS officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi — Tehelka readers may recall — has been harassed by the Haryana government since 2007 for exposing corruption and violations of laws that involved Chief Minister Hooda’s office, his key and a host of top IFS and IAS officials.
In the face of stiff resistance from the Haryana government, it took the Centre five years, two Presidential interventions and a MoEF inquiry to revoke the illegal suspension order and chargesheet slapped on Chaturvedi by the state. The whistleblower’s claims were subsequently examined by the CVC and the CBI itself, which recommended a CBI probe on 1 March 2012.
Back in 2011, when Chaturvedi wrote to the PMO seeking a CBI probe into the scams he unearthed, his file was referred to the DoPT. Subsequently, all Central agencies involved agreed that cases flagged by Chaturvedi deserved a CBI probe. But the DoPT came to the Hooda regime’s rescue by claiming that the MoEF inquiry was “ultra-vires of their powers and hence devoid of any force of law”.
A week after the DoPT issued the note in February 2012, MM Joshi, a serving IFS officer in Haryana and a prime accused in the scams and violations, filed an RTI application. In just three working days, the DoPT handed Joshi the confidential note, a third-party information, without inviting objections from Chaturvedi, which is mandatory under Section 11(1) of the RTI Act. Ironically, the DoPT is the nodal ministry for the RTI Act and for drafting of the Whistleblower Protection Bill. On 5 March 2012, the state government placed the note, obtained by Joshi in his private capacity, in the Assembly to silence the Opposition clamour for the CBI probe.
In August 2012, Chaturvedi managed to move out of Haryana and joined the Union health ministry on deputation as the chief vigilance officer at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Soon after, Joshi approached the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), Chandigarh, with the same DoPT note for overturning the Presidential order, which had quashed Chaturvedi’s illegal chargesheet.
The case was admitted by Promilla Issar, member, CAT, who was the chief secretary of Haryana when the scams unearthed by Chaturvedi took place. Due to the conflict of interest, the case was finally transferred to the Principal Bench of CAT in New Delhi last November.
Meanwhile, when Chaturvedi wrote to the PMO in March 2012 about the illegal DoPT note, its unauthorised leakage to an accused officer and misuse by the Haryana government, the PMO disregarded the DoPT note by writing to the MoEF in May 2012 to seek details of the action taken on its inquiry into the irregularities. In the same month, the PMO sought comments from Secretary, DoPT, as well. There have been five reminders since but the DoPT has not budged.
For good reasons, it seems. In November 2012, when an undaunted Chaturvedi filed a Criminal Writ Petition in the Supreme Court seeking a CBI investigation, the Haryana government in its reply to the apex court’s notice again hid behind the dopt fig leaf. Manmohan Singh’s silence maybe earning Chief Minister Hooda’s gratitude but it will be another embarrassment for him if the apex court quashes the note before his DoPT does.
|Crossing The Line The DoPT note violates the provisions of Article 312 of the Constitution, All India Services Act, 1951, Discipline & Appeal Rules, 1969, Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
ISSUE Adverse entries into ACR of All India Service officers
ISSUE Posting on non-cadre posts and violation of Cadre Rules , regarding All India Service officers
ISSUE Suspension of All India Service officers
ISSUE Violation of Forest and Wildlife laws
ISSUE Departmental chargesheet of All India Service officers
ISSUE CBI investigation
An unchallenged 2004 CAT order in a dispute between Himachal Pradesh and the Centre over the appointment of an IPS officer stated the following:
“The state government does not have the complete or exclusive seisin over a member of the All India Service… in case of an dispute or a doubt, the decision of the Central government shall be final and the state governments are obligated to implement the same…it would lead to an anomalous assault if a member of the All India Service is left at the unintended mercy of the parent state… in all the rules, regulations and orders relating to service conditions of a member of the All India Service, the primacy of the Government of India has been preserved and maintained. It has all-pervasive and overriding powers.”