What do you call an officer who misuses public money to buy an iron that costs a mere Rs 1,800? Don’t say ‘cheap’, OK! After all, this officer also spent no less than Rs 1.5 lakh on curtains, cushions and their stitching. Who does that? The name is Kumar, SB Deepak Kumar, the since-ousted chief executive officer (CEO) of the Chandigarh Housing Board (CHB). His total expenditure on sprucing up the house, in the name of calling it a camp office, touched Rs 40 lakh.
You can call him corrupt, if you insist, but the man sure has taste. Do you, the unwashed masses, even know that there is something called ‘Masai’ armchairs, or ‘Williams’ side-tables, ‘Lyon’ end-tables, and furniture of the ‘Stanford’ collection? Of course, you don’t. And Deepak does. That’s why he could buy that 49-inch Sony LED TV for Rs 1.45 lakh. He has, after all, cleared what is considered the toughest exam in India, to become an officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). That requires more-than-usual knowledge and enterprise. In return, you get to spend public money on smartphones that cost just Rs 50,000, or maybe a bit more.
He is following in the footsteps of worthies such as Vijay Dev, the immediate-previous adviser of the UT administrator, though Deepak could not match the heights that his senior had touched. Dev spent over Rs 2 crore on renovation of his house , and was planning more before jealousy-driven journalists made it a moral issue. How unfair! Chandigarh already has the finest roads in the region. What else can these guys spend public funds on? Is asking for a modular kitchen a sin?
In Kumar’s case, CHB chairman Maninder Singh discovered the whole thing after a report by my HT colleague Hillary Victor some months ago. And Kumar — who continues to hold other important posts in the UT administration — told the board this past week to take it all away. He likes giving it back to those who give it to him. For instance, to HT he gave it back with the honorific ‘presstitute’, a creative combination of ‘press’ and ‘prostitute’ made famous by the retired general VK Singh, who was once the chief of Indian Army and is now one of His Highness Modi’s ministers.
After Kumar’s give-it-up pledge, one CHB official stood out. This guy said, “We are in a fix because we don’t have space to keep the things that we are to bring back from his house.” First things first, this official needs help from an eye doctor or a psychiatrist. Because I am sure the CHB has space to keep stuff that Kumar managed to fit into his humble house allotted by the government.
Anyway, the seemingly more important point was made by Nirmal Datt, chairman of the CHB Residents’ Federation. “Public money has been wasted,” he underlined, and added, “Returning the goods is not enough. The money must be recovered from the officer (Kumar), who even bought an iron from the board’s funds.”
With all due respect, I disagree with Nirmal sir, who is a former professor at DAV-10 and taught us English as brilliantly as he writes Punjabi poetry. This is not Sparta, sir. Ironed clothes are essential in public life. Zero creases, a well-shaven face, not a hair out of place on the head, and a smirk-cum-smile that marks you out as cute to some — a faultless outward appearance is particularly important to those who have faults to hide.