He fights the system with its own motto: in truth lies victory

As Indian Forest Service officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi gets marching orders again – this times as the AIIMS chief vigilance officer – we revisit our June 2012 article when the whistleblower was appointed by the Centre

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | June 28, 2012




We cannot have a bureaucracy which is hundred percent risk-averse. In fact, we should encourage boldness in decision-making, provided that the decisions are well considered and as per the law of the land… a civil servant who does not take decisions might always be safe, but at the end of the day he or she would have contributed nothing to our society and to our country.”

Speaking on the Civil Services Day (April 21), prime minister Manmohan Singh asked civil servants to show boldness in decision-making, assuring them that there would be no witch-hunting in the name of fighting corruption. That day, somebody sitting in Hisar needed that assurance the most. The 37-year-old young bureaucrat — cowed by circumstances but buoyed by steel nerves — began writing a letter to the prime minister that very evening. Amid furious jottings lay scattered his own life: a whisteblower’s fight against the odds.

Sanjeev Chaturvedi, a 2002 batch Indian forest service (IFS) officer of Haryana cadre, has been paying the price for sticking to the every word of the oath he had taken at the time of his induction into the services. In the last five years, he has been transferred 12 times, faced departmental proceedings as well as criminal cases and prevented from going to the centre on deputation. Despite being vindicated by president Pratibha Patil who quashed a departmental charge-sheet against him and indicted the Haryana government for harassing the bureaucrat, there seems no respite for him.

Chaturvedi’s ordeal began in 2007 when a group of contractors backed by heavyweight politicians tried to dig a canal through the Saraswati wildlife sanctuary in Kurukshetra. Chaturvedi, who was posted there as the district forest officer, opposed the construction citing legal hurdles as it was in violation of the forest and wildlife laws. Chaturvedi’s resistance put a spanner in the works. Chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s promise of providing irrigation to the farmers in the Kurukshetra region and his Rs 400-crore dream project for linking this canal to Bhakra Nangal dam now faced an uncertain future.

Contractors executing the project were believed to have been handpicked by the chief minister and his office. Notwithstanding Chaturvedi’s resistance, the canal was dug through the sanctuary even though the supply of irrigation water to the farmers of the region still remains a far cry.

However, the face-off between Chaturvedi and political heavyweights drew much attention and evoked the curiosity of wildlife enthusiasts. The Wildlife Trust of India, an NGO, filed a public interest litigation in the supreme court to draw its attention towards the destruction of the sanctuary, which was in violation of all rules including one made by the apex court for the protection of the wildlife. The case took a curious turn when the court referred the case to a two-member central empowered committee (CEC) headed by PV Jaykrishnan for an inquiry into the episode. The CEC’s findings proved to be a severe indictment of the Haryana government, which was slapped with a fine of Rs 1 crore to compensate for the damage caused to the sanctuary.

The embarrassment that the Haryana government faced in the national media unleashed vengeance against Chaturvedi. As expected, a witch-hunt began soon. He was transferred out of Kurukshetra on May 30, 2007, and asked to join his new posting in Fatehabad. But his tryst with controversy was still far from over. In Fatehabad, he found himself again on the wrong side of his political masters when he opposed construction of a herbal park on a private land by spending money earmarked for forest development. The park belonged to one Prahlad Singh Gillakhera who was known to be close to a state minister.

That the forest minister did not take kindly to Chaturvedi’s objections was conveyed to him through a letter on July 12, 2007. He was placed under suspension on August 3, 2007, by Hooda.

By this time, Chaturvedi knew that it would be a long haul. He deftly used the right to information to get the notings on the file that led to his suspension. He approached the central administrative tribunal (CAT) with those observations in the file and got himself re-instated on January 3, 2008. Since then, he has been used by the state government as a shuttlecock between districts. So far, he has been transferred to 12 places. But given the stuff he is made of, Chaturvedi continued to bring the skeletons out of the government’s closets. He was transferred abruptly from Jhajhar to Hisar at the written direction of CM Hooda to soft-pedal inquiry into a multi-crore plantation scam. In Hisar, a constituency represented in Lok Sabha by a powerful politician, Chaturvedi blew the lid off a serious fraud committed in the name of plantation in a 200-acre patch under a central government-funded scheme. The fraud ran into several crores and involved senior officers.

While continuing his battle against the high and mighty in Haryana, Chaturvedi explored yet another possibility of redressal of his grievances. Rule 25 of the All India Services Rules, 1969, stipulates that an officer can submit a memorial to the president, listing out instances of his persecution and seeking redressal from the president. Along with this memorial submitted to the president on August 30, 2010, he also approached the cabinet secretary and apprised him of the harassment meted out to him by the state government. This prompted the ministry of forest and environment (MoEF) to launch an independent probe into the matter.

On September 15, 2010, the MoEF constituted a two-member inquiry committee headed by AK Srivastava, IG wildlife, who  conducted a three-month-long probe in the entire range of allegations and found that the official had been facing persecution of the worst kind from those firmly entrenched in the top echelons of the state administration. The committee in its report submitted to the ministry surmised that the issues raised by Chaturvedi were genuine and relevant and in consonance with the law. They also recommended a CBI inquiry to probe the entire gamut of allegations which implicate even the office of the chief minister. On the basis of these inputs and prevarication by the Haryana government, president Pratibha Patil quashed the departmental charge-sheet against Chaturvedi and indicted the state government for his persecution in January 2011.

Despite securing a moral victory, there was no let-up in Chaturvedi’s woes. Acting with vengeance, the state government did not give its mandatory approval to Chaturvedi’s application for a central deputation despite a go-ahead by the centre. Besides, Haryana forest minister Ajay Yadav rejected the report of the MoEF-constituted panel and demanded that the quashing of charge-sheet by the president be reviewed. There are all indications that his file (for a central deputation) would not be cleared for a year (despite three reminders from the centre) to debar him from central postings in future. 

Anticipating it, Chaturvedi again went to CAT on June 13, 2012, and presented his case. The CAT heard the matter on the following day and issued an order that nobody will be appointed in his place (for the central deputation he sought) and he will not be debarred even if the state government sits over his plea for more than a year. That again is some assurance and a moral victory.

Much has changed in his life since his tryst with destiny began. His wife of five years left him in 2010. His father, a retired electrical engineer with the Uttar Pradesh government, does not keep well. The old man fears for the life of his son who has made so many enemies. Despite a row of awards placed neatly on the mantel (Chaturvedi has been conferred with the Manjunath Shanmugam Integrity Award in 2009, RTI award by Arvind Kejriwal’s Public Cause Research Foundation, Jindal Foundation Award for fight against corruption and IRDS Award for governance in 2012), Chaturvedi’s patience with the system appears to be wearing thin. Though his faith in its motto — in truth lies the victory — is intact.

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