The Punjab government has landed itself in a tricky situation. Having almost ended a year-long exercise of identifying officers who are permanent residents of foreign countries, the state government now doesn’t know what do to with them. In absence of any specific instructions in the conduct rules for such employees, the government is trying hard to figure out what action it can take in such cases.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had in August last year ordered the vigilance bureau (VB) to identify officers who had their feet firmly planted in other countries.
An interim report of the vigilance bureau found as many as 130 gazetted and non-gazetted officers of the Punjab government to be permanent residents and green-card holders of foreign countries. The list includes an IAS officer and two PCS officers among a host of senior officers. The report was submitted to the government on May 15.
Another list of almost 170 employees was handed over early this month taking the number of Punjab’s ‘migrant’ officers to 300. The government was in process of gathering information on 500 more employees. So, the final tally of such officers is likely to be close to 800.
The VB, in its report to the government, said strict action should be taken against these employees for professional misconduct. Referring to a March 2006 letter of Punjab’s joint secretary (personnel), the VB said these employees are covered under the rules pertaining to employees seeking a no-objection certificate for emigration.
The letter — sent to all departments of the government — stated: “References are received from various departments seeking clarifications on granting a ‘no-objection certificate’ to government officers/ officials for seeking emigration to foreign countries.
“Keeping in view the policy of the Government of India, it has been decided that no government officer/official should apply or seek emigration to any other country as long as he is in government service. The question of issuing a no-objection certificate to a government employee who wishes to migrate to a foreign country, therefore, does not arise. The same rule is also a part of the All India Service Conduct Rues 1968, added in 1993.”
But does ‘seeking emigration’ cover attaining permanent residency or green card of another country? This is one of the clarifications the state government has now sought from its legal cell. What also puts the entire exercise under a cloud is a 2002 notification of the state government that allowed employees a five-year unpaid leave to try their hand at “self-employment”. Initially, employees were told to work within the country. However, later they were allowed to go abroad and work.
These officers were not to be paid any salary but were allowed to retain their seniority. Taking advantage of this leave period, many employees chose to go abroad and settled there. While many of these employees never returned, others came back after having become residents of a foriegn country and resumed their service.
The scheme has now been withdrawn by the government.
There is another category of employees who applied for a PR card as they had extended families in foreign countries. “I challenge the Punjab government to take action against me. I’ve not committed any crime. My daughter lives abroad and I often go to meet her. What’s wrong in being a permanent resident of that country,” says GK Singh, the sole IAS officer on the list who has the PR card of Canada.
Then, there are also officers who had probably started the process of immigration before they joined the government service.
“Since the entire process of immigration is long (at least 10 years), many officers applied for it much before they joined the government service,” said a vigilance bureau officer.
The government is likely to take strict action against those officers who allegedly hoodwinked the government to get a PR card after 2006 when fresh instructions were issued.
The government is also planning to go through the list to identify those officers who took foreign trips without informing it and also didn’t apply for ex-India leave. Other than professional misconduct, the government is also looking at cases where these employees have bought property abroad, held NRI accounts or even helped their wards get admission in professional colleges under NRI quota.
Chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal has formed a five- member committee under additional chief secretary (Home) Jagpal Singh Sandhu to undertake the entire exercise. “We have sought certain clarifications regarding the rules from the legal cell. We will soon hold another meeting,” said the chief secretary.