Whistleblower Officer’s Deputation to Delhi Still on Hold; Modi-led Appointments Committee Told to Act Fast

File photo of Sanjiv Chaturvedi. Credit: PTI

File photo of Sanjiv Chaturvedi. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Realising full well that the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC), headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has deliberately been stalling the deputation of Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer and whistleblower Sanjeev Chaturvedi from Uttarakhand to Delhi, where his services as officer on special duty (OSD) had been sought by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal last year, the Central Administrative Tribunal has directed the ACC secretariat to put up his deputation case within 15 days.

In his order on April 27, member of the tribunal K.N. Srivastava directed the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to expedite Chaturvedi’s case and also directed the ACC to to decide on it “as soon as possible’’. Through its latest order, the tribunal has also set aside the earlier order of the ACC of February 2016.

This is the third instance in the past year that orders of the ACC have been set aside. In May 2015, while quashing the ACC’s orders of seeking fresh consent from the concerned state governments in the case of Chaturvedi’s cadre transfer from Haryana – his parent cadre – to Uttarakhand, the tribunal had exhorted the ACC not to promote corruption and punish honesty. Then in November 2015, it had asked the ACC to take a decision on the IFS officer’s Delhi deputation case by January 5, 2016. The tribunal has had to step in repeatedly because of the ACC’s dilly-dallying approach.

Chaturvedi had been honoured with the Magsaysay Award last year for painstakingly exposing corruption in public office. In the last year, he has often accused the Modi government of stalling his deputation to Delhi as a punishment for exposing corruption in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where he is currently posted.

This time, Chaturvedi argued his case before the tribunal himself. He submitted that he belonged to the 2002 batch of the IFS of Haryana Cadre. His cadre was later changed to Uttarakhand with the approval of the ACC, and he was posted at AIIMS as deputy secretary under the central staff scheme of the DoPT under the health ministry.

He claimed that he had been assigned some additional responsibilities at AIIMS, primarily as chief vigilance officer, which were later withdrawn.

A history of intervention

Soon after taking over as chief minister, Kejriwal had on February 16, 2015 written to the minister of state in the environment ministry. seeking Chaturvedi’s services to his office as an OSD. Subsequently, the environment ministry had written to the health ministry on June 3 seeking a no objection certificate (NOC) for his inter-cadre deputation to the Delhi government.

As there was a delay from the health ministry, Chaturvedi approached the tribunal, which directed the ministry to take a decision on the proposal for his request of inter-cadre deputation by November 6. The health ministry had then issued the NOC on October 30. The Uttarakhand government subsequently issued its NOC on November 16.

As his case for inter-cadre deputation was still getting unduly delayed, the applicant once again approached the tribunal, which directed that as soon as the NOC is received from Uttarakhand the matter be immediately placed before the ACC and the exercise for inter-cadre deputation be completed by January 5.

However, Chaturvedi had to move the tribunal again, as the environment ministry on February 15 declined his request for inter-cadre deputation to Delhi on the grounds that the NOC issued by Uttarakhand on November 16 had been withdrawn by them on January 6. The DoPT had on February 2 additionally said that the ACC had also seen the proposal of the MOEFCC, the operative portion of which read: “The request of Shri Sanjiv Chaturvedi, IFS (UTT:2002) for his inter-cadre deputation to the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi for aforementioned reasons cannot be acceded to.”

It was then that Chaturvedi filed the latest original application. He submitted that despite the NOC from Uttarakhand, the respondents – ACC, DoPT and the environment ministry – had delayed the processing of his case for inter-cadre deputation. He also told the tribunal that though it had directed the respondents to place the matter before the DoPT for approval of the ACC, they had not obtained the latter’s approval.

On their part, the government counsels submitted that though the matter had been placed before the ACC, it had not considered it because Uttarakhand had withdrawn its NOC.

Chaturvedi also charged that the environment ministry had not been “fair to him,” and had been putting a lot of pressure on the government of Uttarakhand for the withdrawal of the NOC issued on November 6. He said the ministry had earlier sent the proposal to DoPT on November 26, but the latter, instead of placing it before the ACC, had returned it on December 15 “raising a frivolous issue of cooling off” between two deputations. In his argument, Chaturvedi placed on record previous instances where the requirement of cooling off had been waived.

Pointing to the policy on inter-cadre deputation of All India Service Officers, Chaturvedi said that he fulfils all the criteria relating to his case. He also charged that the environment ministry letter to Uttarakhand on February 22 “was sent with ulterior motives to bamboozle the state government to withdraw its NOC”. He also claimed that this letter had raised extraneous issues of Uttarakhand having a shortage of IFS officers for implementing several externally added crucial projects, mandatory cooling off, etc., notwithstanding the fact that the state government had on October 12, 2015 already written to the environment ministry that they would not like to send more IFS officers on central deputation.

Chaturvedi had further submitted that Uttarakhand had restored its NOC through a letter sent on February 24 which stated that “….. it is outside the jurisdiction of government of Uttarakhand to take a decision on waving off of the cooling off between one deputation and another deputation and only Government of India is competent to decide the same. If permission is granted in this regard from the level of Government of India, then state government has no objection to the same.”

Chaturvedi also cited an earlier decision of the ACC in his favour. In this official memorandum dated May 26, 2014, the ACC had stated: “Officers of all the three All India Services (Including IPS) as well as Central Services who are appointed as PS/OSD without completing their ‘cooling off’ should be reverted to their cadre once their term as PS/OSD ends for whatever reason. While appointing such officers as PS/OSD an informed consent should be obtained from them that they are willing to be appointed as PS/OSD in waiver of the ‘cooling off’ requirement, fully aware of the condition that they would be reverted back to their cadre once their term as PS/OSD ends for whatever reason and that they would be further required to complete the ‘cooling off’ afresh.”

Since Chaturvedi is being proposed as OSD to the Delhi chief minister and his current deputation to the central government will end next month, the tribunal directed the DoPT and environment ministry to resubmit the proposal for his inter-cadre deputation to the ACC within two weeks from the date of receipt of a certified copy of its order. It also directed the ACC to take a decision in the matter “as expeditiously as possible”. The tribunal order has put the ball back in Modi’s court.