Government

Modi Swears by Sardar Patel, but His Actions Undermine the ‘Steel Frame’ of All India Services

The Centre’s stance on the Haryana forestry scam case runs contrary to constitutional provision for the protection of civil servants.

Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Despite the BJP having made a big issue of the allegations of corruption which had been levelled against the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government in Haryana in 2010, the Narendra Modi government at the Centre has chosen to adopt the same stance taken by Manmohan Singh’s government in denying a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into what had come be known as the Haryana forestry scam.

In doing so, the Modi government has stood by an opinion of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), issued in February 2012, which was in conflict of a constitutional scheme of protection to All India Services.

A series of appeals filed under the Right to Information Act (RTI) by whistleblower Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi when he was posted in Haryana had unearthed the scam involving senior Haryana politicians and bureaucrats have revealed how instead of going after corruption committed under the Congress rule, the Modi government has decided to stall the investigations and in doing so has sought to defend the DoPT order which has since been cited by the Haryana government to repeatedly stall a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into allegations of corruption involving top political leadership and bureaucracy in Haryana.

DoPT opinion in conflict with constitutional scheme

The Centre has so far also not cancelled the opinion of DoPT which was in conflict of constitutional scheme of protection to All India Services.

Incidentally, these services draw their origin from the constitution, under Article 312, which gives complete and absolute powers to the Central government to legislate and regulate each of their service matters, Moreover, under Rule 16, 24 & 25 of AIS(D&A) Rule 1969, the Central government can at any stage, even on suo moto basis, quash any order of a state government in disciplinary matters, relating to grievances, at any stage. Further the very subject of All India Services lies in Union List (List I) of the constitution making them totally out of bound for state governments.

The ‘steel frame’ is being undermined

But while the Modi government has repeatedly proclaimed Sardar Patel to be its icon and role model, it has sought to counter his idea behind creating the All India Services and providing them constitutional safeguards through its approach in this matter. On Patel’s birth anniversary on October 31, 2017, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu had noted how Indian Administrative Service was one of the great contributions of Patel who in his vision for a “unified India”, saw it as a “steel frame”.

The Modi government’s stand in the matter, however, runs contrary to this idea. A writ petition filed by Chaturvedi in Supreme Court in November 2012 for order of CBI investigation into all these scams is still pending. Ironically, the DoPT opinion, which the Modi government so vigorously defended, remains the main defense of the Haryana government to counter the demands of CBI investigation into the scams during the Hooda rule.

Preliminary probe had indicted CM, minister, bureaucrats

The case goes back to 2010 when on the basis of comprehensive representation of Chaturvedi to the then Cabinet Secretariat, the Ministry of Environment and Forest had constituted a two-member enquiry committee to look into corruption related to illegal mining, illicit filling, fake plantations, etc that had been unearthed by the officer.

Finding prima facie substance in the case, the enquiry committee had severely indicted the office of then Haryana chief minister Hooda, then forest minister Kiran Chaudhary, then chief parliamentary secretary Prehlad Singh Hilakhera and senior officers of state government, for their alleged role in these cases of corruption and recommended a CBI probe. Subsequently, both CBI and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had given their concurrence for the investigation in November-December 2011 and the issue was under active consideration of MoEF.

DoPT note was used to stall CBI probe

But then all of a sudden, the DoPT, headed by minister of state Narayan Swami had sent a “confidential note” to the PMO in February 2012 declaring the actions of MoEF, in constituting the enquiry committee, as ‘ultra vires’. But a copy of this “confidential” opinion was immediately sent to senior IFS officer of Haryana cadre, M.M. Joshi, who was indicted in the two member committee report for corruption charges.

The DoPT also declared that the Central government does not have any power over the service matters of All India Service officers, working in the state government and hence, declared the actions of constitution of enquiry committee by MoEF as untenable.

Despite, DoPT’s observations, on March 1, 2012, the MoEF accepted the recommendation of CBI and CVC for a CBI probe and asked the Hooda government to issue a notification for the same. But the Haryana government rejected the direction of MoEF citing the DoPT opinion.

Annoyed at the content and leakage of DoPT opinion, which was used by the Hooda government to refuse notification for CBI investigation, Chaturvedi sent a number of representations to the PMO – as DoPT also reported to the Prime Minister directly – but as there was no response he filed an RTI application with the PMO in October 2013 and then took the matter to the Central Information Commission (CIC) in May 2014.

Under Manmohan, PMO defended denial of information

The PMO then stated that it had the right to not reveal internal government documents which may be used to initiate civil or criminal proceedings in court against the government or officials for alleged illegal and unconstitutional acts.

The CIC on May 20, 2014, directed the CPIO in PMO to provide all the information within one week and more importantly issued a show cause notice for imposition of a fine of Rs 25,000 not only against CPIO but also against deemed CPIO, who in this case happened to be a senior officer of PMO.

As the Modi government was sworn in after this order on May 26, 2014 it was believed that in order to expose the corruption under the Congress regime in Haryana it would act in the matter. But it was not to be.

Modi too did not act against the corrupt

Instead of complying with the orders of CIC on a matter of such important constitutional issue related to All India Services, which had been thought of by BJP’s new icon, Sardar Patel, as a means of improving civil administration by providing protection for the central officers who are posted in the states, chose to file a review application against the orders of CIC in July 2014. This happened despite there being no provision of review under RTI Act 2005 (this has been spelt out by Delhi High Court in CWP 5086/2010, in order dated 18.11.2011 in the case titled Suhas Chakma vs Union of India and another).

When the CIC again directed PMO on July 30, 2014 to submit compliance report of its earlier order within three weeks, in gross disregard of the statutory provisions and ruling of Delhi high court the PMO filed a second review on August 25, 2014 which remained pending in the Commission for nearly 18 months as the post of CIC, who hears matters relating to PMO, remained vacant all this while.

The new CIC, Vijay Sharma, soon after taking charge had closed the said show cause notice order passed in November 2015 saying that delay was not ‘intentional’ nor ‘mala fide’. Thus the delinquent officials of earlier PMO as well as DoPT officials, who had kept pending the supply of information and were held liable for penalty, were let off without any punishment.

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