“While I was expecting support from PM... I was harassed and removed”
Pankaj Kumar | August 18, 2015
The young and outspoken Indian Forest Service officer whose 12-year service in the bureaucracy has been spent in constant conflict with the government and whose take on political establishments for disturbing the protected forests acquired him the ‘whistleblower’ title has been honoured with the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award. A fighter to the core, Sanjiv Chaturvedi is passionate about fighting corruption. He is the second serving civil servant after Kiran Bedi to have received the award. Meanwhile, Chaturvedi’s future hangs in balance as he is yet to be told about his next assignment or role as an officer. Pankaj Kumar spoke to Chaturvedi. Edited excerpts:
Who would you give credit for this recognition?
I dedicate this award to all the honest officers of the country. I believe this is a tribute to the founding fathers of the nation who created a constitutional mechanism under which all-India service officers could work fearlessly and professionally.
Does the award add to your determination at work?
I have never performed my duty for any reward. I have always worked without any expectations and will continue to do so believing that work is worship. I exercise my duty in my full capacity without any fear or favour.
How do you see your journey as a civil servant? Did you have to pay the price for being honest?
Ten years of journey has taught me a lot and made me as strong as the Rock of Gibraltar! I have learnt that truth prevails and wins in the end. I never had vested interests; that is why I could survive despite the fact that my actions challenged several top politicians. I faced 12 transfers in five years of service in Haryana. Four criminal cases were slapped against me to demoralise me, but thanks to the almighty, I always emerged victorious.
What has been more difficult: working under the Congress regime in Haryana or under the Modi government now?
Although I got tremendous support from the state as well as central governments, it was never easy to work with either. I was disappointed last year when I found even PMO (prime minister’s office) did nothing after my removal as CVO (chief vigilance officer) of the AIIMS (All-India institute of medical sciences), though I submitted all evidence to show my removal from the office was illegal. I never compromised on my duty as a civil servant and tried to implement the honourable prime minister’s words, “Na khaoonga, na khane doonga (I will neither take bribe nor let anyone take bribe)”. While I was expecting support from the prime minister, I was harassed and removed from my office over wrong allegations. Never ever in the history of AIIMS had any CVO taken prior approval from the CVC including the present CVO, but I was removed citing false reasons. The CVC itself has given an affidavit in this regard and everything is in public domain in black and white. The PM himself intervened and I submitted full evidence against my removal as CVO but in spite of getting justice I was harassed. Discriminatory decisions were taken which were detrimental to me.
Are you saying that you were punished because you initiated action against a powerful IAS officer, Vineet Choudhary, who – according to you – is close to union health minister JP Nadda?
All evidence is in the public domain. The PMO has been provided with all the evidence supporting what I said and the reasons of my ouster. Courts too are aware of the facts. On June 16 the court intervened in my support when my ACR (annual confidential report) was being written. I performed my duty in full capacity without favouring or harming anyone. My fight is not with any particular person, I am fighting corruption and doing my duty. I have faced such cases even in Haryana and have challenged them in court.
Is there a strong nexus among politicians, mafia and bureaucrats?
Saying that all politicians or bureaucrats are corrupt is wrong. However, corruption cannot thrive unless there is a very close nexus among mafia, politicians and bureaucrats. I initiated action against a person who was selling spurious drugs and I got him removed from AIIMS. Due to this, I had to face severe repercussions because he had access to a top politician of the previous government. I was transferred. But the health committee intervened to save me. Even this time, as I initiated action against one senior officer, a CBI inquiry followed up. I took action in 180 such cases for which unlawful silly excuses were given. It becomes difficult to initiate action when mafias get protection from bureaucrats and political leaders. But there is a prescribed rule of law with the help of which you can fight corruption.
Do you think that all-India service officers need more safeguards to act independently and fearlessly?
The bureaucracy is the best protected job in the world as our constitution has provided enough safeguards to act fearlessly. Even the lowest punishment like censure has to pass through UPSC where each and every allegation is minutely discussed before initiating any action. If an officer is having no vested interest then nothing can happen to him as he is appropriately protected by the constitution. There are pressures but the real character of any person comes out only during the difficult times. I believe that more the number of honest officers, less will be harassment of officers in the country.
What according to you are the reasons for rising cases of corruption?
Corruption cannot be rooted out by hollow speeches, nautanki or tamasha. Great political will is required to root it out and the officers who are doing exemplary work in this regard need to be protected. My endeavours could initiate action in 180 cases, out of which punishments were given in 87 cases. About 15 to 20 cases are under CBI investigation. I took strong measures against the single-tender system in procurement and store purchase to stop corruption, but I am being punished as if I am an offender. My point is that who is going to protect me if the saviour (government) is acting against a dutiful officer. If a dutiful officer is protected, mafias will not exist. Sadly, there is a symbiotic relation among them and that is why corruption is rising and honest officers are being threatened.
Who are you referring to when you speak of hollow speeches?
The entire country can understand what I mean.
Can you share with us some of your endeavours for the common people?
All the work I have done is only for the common people. This is what a civil servant is expected to do. The list is very long but the work which satisfied me to the core was shutting the shop that was supplying spurious drugs, following which I initiated a generic drugs facility. I ensured proper procurement system and store purchase to improve the quality of equipment and drugs. Secondly, 4,000 contractual employees were devoid of their rights but my efforts could bring smile on their faces. Thirdly, unhygienic foods were being served to people at exorbitant prices in AIIMS. We started a neat and clean canteen to serve hygienic food on no profit and no loss basis.
Is it true that you have made complaints to the authorities on not being allocated any work?
Whenever a post is created, its requirement is explained to the finance ministry. The post of deputy secretary was created for the purpose of monitoring infrastructural work and to control management and to coordinate multidisciplinary system in AIIMS. The general body, institutional body as well as the SFC has assigned the work of CVO to the deputy secretary. First three responsibilities were not assigned and even the last role was taken away from me and that is why the purpose of creating the post of deputy secretary is not being served. I have taken this matter to the court and notice has been served to the concerned authorities.
What do you plan to do now? Do you want to be reinstated as AIIMS CVO or will you serve as an OSD to Kejriwal?
All Indian officers normally go to the parent cadre after serving at the centre for four years. My case is different as there was threat to my life and liberty in the parent cadre as it has been directed by CVC and other authorities. I have not yet completed my four years at the centre. After the expansion of the cabinet in November 2014, the situation has become even more difficult for me.
The matter of cadre transfer is there in the court and I am quite hopeful that my next role will be decided in one or two months.
(The interview appears in the August 16-31, 2015 issue)
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