Ashok Khemka: At the outset, everything I say is personal and none of my views represents official matters.
The new government has found no merits in the chargesheet against you. Do you feel vindicated by the dropping of proceedings against you?
Yes, I feel elated and vindicated. It was 700 days of mental agony that I underwent and unfortunately, the judge initially was the same set of people who were accused of the wrongdoing, and there was an apprehension that the adjudication may not be fair. But after the change in government [in Haryana] I found that the bureaucratic system in the country is a game of musical chairs. So even if there is a change of government through the process of elections, the game of musical chairs in the bureaucracy continues. And the real change is not forthcoming.
What is the real change?
The real change is the sense of justice… it is that for wrongs committed in the past, action is taken against the set of bureaucrats who were party to it. My experience in 25 years is that bureaucracy is a willing accomplice to the wrongdoings. The big-scale corruption now starts from the corporate world. The corporate world co-opts the bureaucratic and political class, and the bureaucracy is the only constant in the system. The political class is changing every five years. It is the bureaucracy that protects its earlier wrongs. The bureaucracy by and large tries to maintain the continuity. It is called continuity in governance. But it has become continuity in corruption.
What people are forgetting is that the committee gave a clean chit to the deal. Nobody is talking about taking action against those members of the committee, about taking action against the officers in the then CMO and the then chief secretary for arbitrarily chargesheeting me or for witch-hunting or hounding me. Let them say they were dictated by the then political executive. And let that be a defence, and let the system judge if that is a valid defence.
Is that why you think it took so long for the new BJP government to drop the proceedings against you?
The government assumed office on October 26, 2014. After that, the records started to be shown to me in order for me to prepare a comprehensive defence… I submitted a comprehensive reply on February 12, 2015. So till that day, the delay cannot be attributed to the present government. But the reply was so comprehensive, I don’t think it should have taken more than a month to take a decision. I will not be able to answer why the decision was kept waiting for 250 days after my reply, when under the rules it should have been done in 30 days.
You cancelled the mutation of Robert Vadra’s lands while you were DG, consolidation. One of the charges against you was that you had exceed your jurisdiction. Now that the proceedings have been dropped, what is the status of that order? Does the mutation stand cancelled?
It is not appropriate for me to comment on that [cancellation] order because that was passed by me in my capacity as DG, consolidation, on behalf of the state government. But legally speaking, unless the order is set aside by the high court, the order is legal and valid, and should be implemented by the state government.
What would implementation mean?
That the mutation is reversed, that is the transfer of that land from Skylight Hospitality [Vadra’s firm] to DLF in the revenue records is reversed.
There were reports that you had approached the previous CM [B S Hooda] to ask him to drop the chargesheet.
I never begged him or the present CM for any favour. I had not even submitted a reply [to the chargesheet]. The question of seeking a favour comes when you file a reply. If there was an iota of truth — I went as a courtesy call on October 16, 2014, [to meet outgoing the chief minister] and that too at his office… I have admitted and I have said, given the chance I will repeat [the same order] 50 times, 100 times over. So where is the question of apology, or seeking a favour? I also repeated it when the present CM had called me on October 6. I said to him, that given a chance, I will repeat it a hundred times.
Do you think there’s need for a law to protect honest officers who are repeatedly hounded ?
No special law can protect an officer… Take the right to education or the right to food. I can legislate right to utopia. But if I do not get utopia, how do I effectively pursue a remedy? [Laws]may give you a sense of utopia, that utopia is coming… Special laws will not have effect, they can only add one more layer of bureaucracy.
So what is the protection for such officers?
Public opinion. That is the only effective remedy. Do you think I’d have had any relief without public opinion? The procedure would have been completed in six months and I would have been out of the service.
So, your prescription is that every bureaucrat who feels wronged should go to the press?
That’s not at all that I mean by public opinion. It is is the moral suasion or moral force. At some stage, even the perpetrator of the crime could not be so ruthless. The moral suasion was so high that to gather the courage to act — that they have been personally wronged — so to strike at him with force, they could not gather the courage to do so.
How difficult was it for you personally, these transfers, chargesheets, inquiries?
Initially it was very difficult. But after some time one got a bit immune to it. Then, there was a sense of humiliation and indignity [when it was said] that look, he could not succeed even in this assignment… The most hurting thing was, when somebody told me – whether it was a chief secretary or a chief minister — ‘Oh you could not get along well there also? Oh, you could not succeed there also? Oh I tried to put you there.’ This indignity… is like the oppressor mocking at your suffering. It is not the agony of the oppression that hurts as much as the scorn. That is more hurting.
Did Robert Vadra ever call you?
Did Hooda say anything to you about the Vadra episode?
Some things are best left to private conversations. I reserve my respect and regard for whoever has occupied the chair of chief minister. I had served him as the elected chief minister… I would not scorn anybody who is elected, because it is the will of the majority and it has to be respected. He is after all answerable after five years. If we are not to respect him, then we will have anarchy.