At first glance, Ashok Khemka (47) looks like just another bureaucrat bored with official files. But then looks, they say, are deceptive.
A 1991-batch IAS officer of Haryana cadre, he is known to dissect every piece of official document and record his view without being in awe of the political-bureaucratic hierarchy in the state. He does not flinch for a moment before taking a position at variance with his superior officers and political bosses to whom he has to report.
And, it's for this reason that Khemka, an intelligent officer with impeccable integrity, evokes extreme reactions within his bureaucratic fraternity that is enjoying a cozy relationship with the political brass in the present Congress regime. While he is seen by many as a whistleblower who exposes wrongdoings in departments where he is posted, the officer has also used the Right to Information Act (RTI) to ferret out information relating to undue favours availed by some of his colleagues, irrespective of their position in the pecking order in the state.
40 transfers in 21 years
There are also those who accuse him of being someone who "digs out" info on his fellow bureaucrats to embarrass them. Though his intelligence and understanding of government rules and regulation is widely acknowledged, not many want him as their junior due to his "in-your-face style of working". A fallout of this is that the officer has been transferred 40 times in his 21 years of service. Khemka has already been shifted thrice by the Hooda government in this financial year. The officer was moved out of HARTRON within eight weeks after he asked some tough questions.
At the same time, there are several officers from All India Services and State Civil Service who regularly consult him on rules and regulation.
Passion for learning, voracious reader
Khemka, who belongs to Kolkata, graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, before completing doctorate in computer science from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. "As a student of Class 4 in St Xavier's Collegiate School, Kolkata, he had memorised every chapter of Radiant Reader, the English textbook, to teach himself English," a former classmate from his school recalled.
He added that a six-pointer in ICSE, Khemka, in Class 10, once burst into tears because he had scored 99% - behind another student who had scored 100% - in a mathematics test.
"The officer retains his passion for learning and is a voracious reader. Few in the government know more about government rules and technological advances than him," a fellow IAS officer said. Khemka has been waiting to go to the Government of India on deputation for some time and his name was circulated a few times to the ministries, but he has not been picked up so far.
Not the first brush with political bosses
The cancellation of mutation of the Vadra-DLF land deal is not his first brush with the political bosses. The officer was a darling of the Congress when he had strongly opposed the acquisition of Nathupur panchayat land worth crores in Gurgaon district for a private builder by the then Om Prakash Chautala government for a paltry sum.
The party seemed equally overjoyed and praised the bureaucrat for his gumption after he, as director secondary education, opposed mid-session transfer of teachers in the same year with a resounding no to hundreds of 'transfer notes' sent by the chief minister's office during the INLD regime, despite a blanket ban on transfers in the state.
His simple logic was that since there is a ban of transfers, no "transfer notes would be entertained". He was promptly shunted out to an inconsequential post without an official vehicle and office. The officer responded by walking down to his office. The television crews followed him. The Congress, then in opposition, clapped from the sidelines. Now, it is Chautala's turn to a take a few potshots at the ruling party. While the style of working of this forthright officer may be a matter of debate, he is undeniably the media's delight.