The Punjab government is ready to punish a PCS officer twice found innocent.It will table an agenda in the cabinet for giving punishment to Punjab Civil Services officer Preneet Bhardwaj, even though Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) has on two occasions found nothing against the officer and set aside his 2008 indictment by SR Ladhar, the-then divisional commissioner of Jalandhar. The punishment includes stopping an annual pay increment.
The move's timing raises doubt, as the government is due to finalise the names of senior PCS officers for recommending to Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for Indian Administrative Service (IAS) selection and this is Bhardwaj's last chance to be promoted to that level. He is 53 and number one on the seniority list.
An officer of the personnel department forced the PPSC to decide on the issue, and even after the PPSC's rejecting it Friday, the agenda was made in just one day to put before the cabinet. From the state, 12 IAS seats are up for grabs and Tuesday is the cabinet meeting. "The charge against Bhardwarj is petty and very old," said a senior IAS officer on the condition of anonymity.
The move also smacks of double standards, as recently after the UPSC rejected the government's plea for punishing IAS officer CS Srivastva, who was indicted of major charges, his file was closed, while Bhardwaj's case was put on the agenda for cabinet meeting. "Srivastva is not on the agenda, yet a PCS officer is being targeted," said an officer of the personnel department, accepting that a cabinet note of more than two pages is ready on sending the case, first of its kind, for punishment.
Twice the PPSC has written down that "the officer is not at fault". The government's proposal for punishment was rejected first when lieutenant general RS Sujlana (retd) was PPSC chairman and later in the tenure of his successor, lieutenant general MS Buttar, who had been asked to reconsider the previous decision.
In 2008, Ladhar had indicted Bhardwaj in a matter related to the 2003 panchayat elections when Bhardwaj was posted as subdivsional magistrate (SDM) in Batala. The inquiry report, submitted in 2008, was retrieved from the cold store suddenly on the eve of the departmental promotional committee (DPC) meeting in November 2012. The proposal to impose penalty was sent to the PPSC and on the basis of it, Bharadwaj was ignored for promotion.
Now again when the DPC is due to meet, the matter has been sent to the commission again, which for second time has rejected it; yet certain officers lobbied to get the cabinet to punish the officer.
On the condition of anonymity, a senior IAS officer said the charge sheet related to a petty issue of deletion of votes in the panchayat elections 10 years ago. "No financial impropriety or serious misconduct is involved. I am aware of entire case. When the PPSC has twice recommended that the matter be put in a file and closed, it should be done gracefully. However, a senior colleague is playing mischief," said the officer.
On the motive of the senior colleague, the officer said maybe he wanted to help someone by getting Bhardwaj off the list of probable candidates for promotion. "The PCS officer is being victimised clearly, as no such agenda was brought in the case of CS Srivastva, where the UPSC had announced the decision like the PPSC," he said.
Someone might have misinformed the CM, as despite requests, the personnel department didn't supply full documents to even the PPSC, the IAS officer has said.
Secretary (personnel) Sarvjit Singh accepted that the department had sent the file to the CM office for putting on agenda but declined to comment on the haste. The chief secretary was unavailable for comments.