At various levels right up to that of Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Haryana government had endorsed, approved and lauded the decision for which it has now sought a CBI probe against IAS officer Ashok Khemka, documents accessed by The Indian Express reveal.
The decision, taken towards the end of 2008, was to use galvalume roofing for food storage godowns, replacing the traditional asbestos sheets. Galvalume, a carbon-steel sheet with an aluminium-zinc coating, is considered more environment-friendly than asbestos. Khemka, who has had several run-ins with the state government, was then managing director of the Haryana State Warehousing Corporation.
The agriculture department had endorsed the decision in a note it had put up on December 12, 2008. “… The roofing of godowns with galvalume sheets (is) more beneficial in comparison to the convention(al) asbestos roofing. There will be marginal increase of 10 % in expenditure… at present no extra funds are required,” the note said.
On Saturday, however, chief secretary S C Chaudhary, while issuing the statement about seeking a CBI probe, said an agriculture department inquiry had noted that since galvalume was a new technology, Khemka should have done a proper cost-benefit study of both technologies and taken the HSWC board of directors into confidence before taking the decision.
Hooda’s approval came after L S M Salins, then financial commissioner and principal secretary, food & supplies, referred it to him, writing, “As a new technological advance is involved, CM may also kindly see for approval.” On December 18, 2008, Hooda’s additional principal secretary K K Khandelwal issued a note that the chief minister had approved the decision to use galvalume sheets.
Khandelwal, also the spokesperson for the government, did not respond to telephone calls and text messages from The Indian Express.
A few months after Khemka introduced galvalume sheets, the government went on to laud the innovation, according to a document from a review meeting held by the chief secretary on November 16, 2009. “HSWC has taken the initiative for construction of food storage godowns with innovative technology using state-of-the-art galvalume sheets,” the document reads.
“Research studies have also revealed that asbestos contain cancerous fibre. In fact all European countries have discarded asbestos sheet roofing and are now shifting to galvalume roofing… Haryana is the first state in the public sector to use this type of sheets”.
Now, apart from recommending a CBI probe, the government has also referred the decision on galvalume sheets to the CAG, which has started a special audit.
Khemka, who has been transferred several times, once from the post of director general of land consolidation after he cancelled the mutation of a land deal involving Robert Vadra, declined to comment.
In a letter he wrote on December 6 to the CAG principal accountant general, Haryana, Khemka stood by his decision on galvalume.
The letter, accessed by The Indian Express, says he stands vindicated with the Food Corporation of India having issued a circular in May 2013 that makes galvalume sheets mandatory for roofing.
Among the questions raised by the government, one is about his insistence on using galvalume sheets manufactured by Korean company Dong Bu. Khemka writes that he insisted on Dong Bu, “a world leader in manufacturing galvalume sheets”, to ensure that quality is not compromised.
His letter includes a table of the comparative rates for 18 contracts for galvalume awarded in India. It shows the contract awarded during his time as the lowest priced, with Rs 1,127 per square meter. After he left as HSWC managing director, the rate went up by approximately 17 per cent, to Rs 1,214.
“Witch hunting and hounding of a public servant for doing his duty is a criminal offence,” the letter adds. “Efforts and time spent by the CAG will be better served if a special audit is ordered on the real scams.” It goes on to list alleged irregularities in land conversion and granting of licences for real estate.