Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka, facing disciplinary proceedings, was on Tuesday given a hearing by chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar. The development assumes significance primarily due to the change of guard in the state as the 1991-batch IAS officer was chargesheeted during the Congress rule in September 2013 for major penalty under Rule 8 of the All-India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules.
In 2013, Khemka was held liable for administrative misconduct for overstepping jurisdiction in passing orders to cancel the mutation of 3.5 acre in Gurgaon’s Shikohpur village, the land that was sold by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s businessman son-in-law Robert Vadra to realty major DLF and indulging in public criticism of the actions and policies of the state government. It is however not clear whether the BJP government in the state will consider dropping Khemka’s chargesheet, though it has set up a commission of inquiry to probe issues concerning the grant of commercial license to M/s Sky Light Hospitality, the company owned by Vadra.
The officer had earlier this year submitted a written statement of his defence to the state government and expressed willingness to be heard in person. the chief minister happens to be the authority in disciplinary matters pertaining to the IAS officers. The major penalties under AIS Rules include reduction to a lower stage in the time scale of pay for a specified period to dismissal from the service.
CM has powers to drop chargesheet
As per a November 1981 clarification issued by Union ministry of personnel: “The disciplinary authority has the inherent power to review and modify articles of charge or drop some of the charges or all the charges after the receipt and examination of the written statement of defence submitted by the accused member of an All India Service under Rule 8(6) of the AIS (discipline and appeal) rules. The disciplinary authority is not bound to appoint an inquiry officer for conducting an inquiry into the charges which are not admitted by the accused member of the service but about which the disciplinary authority is satisfied on the basis of the written statement of defence that there is no further cause to proceed with.”
The IAS officer after being transferred on October 11, 2012, from the post of director general, consolidation of holdings (DGCH), and inspector general, registration, had on October 12 and 15 ordered an inquiry into the alleged undervaluation of assets owned by Vadra or his companies in Gurgaon, Faridabad, Palwal and Mewat districts and set aside the mutation of 3.5 acres. Passing orders after he was transferred, as per the state government, constituted an administrative misconduct.
A committee of officers constituted by the government to inquire into the matter to ascertain acts of omission and commission by various authorities involved had termed Khemka’s orders as inappropriate and without jurisdiction. Khemka was held liable for his public criticism of the actions and policies of the state government during the course of these developments.
In May 2013, Khemka submitted a detailed response on the findings of the committee, justifying his October 2012 orders. In his response, the IAS officer, besides levelling serious allegations against two members of the committee, also changed tacks to question the manner in which the sale of 3.5 acre from Onkareshwar Properties to Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality took place, terming it a “sham transaction”. He had also questioned the issuance of a commercial colony licence granted to Sky Light Hospitality by the town and country planning department.
The state government subsequently sought comments on Khemka’s May 2013 response from the revenue department and the town and country planning department (TCPD). The two departments, pertaining to whom the issues were raised by the IAS officer, completely disagreed with his response and rebutted his allegations. In fact, the town and country planning department in its response went to the extent of suggesting that Khemka should be chargesheeted for publicly criticising the actions and policies of the department.
The government also found Khemka’s actions to be violative of Rule 7 of the All-India Services (Conduct) Rules. The rules say: “No member of the service will in any radio broadcast or communication over any public media or in any document published anonymously, pseudonymously or in his own name or in the name of any other person or in any communication to the press or in any public utterance make any statement of fact or opinion which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the central or state government.”