New Delhi: Within days of his registering a first information report (FIR) against chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar on a missing file related to a high court case concerning whistleblower Indian Forest Service officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi, the Haryana government has transferred government officer Rajinder Singh Chhillar.
Though no reason has been given by the BJP government for Chhillar’s transfer to the animal husbandry division, it is widely believed that it has much to do with his action on the missing file. The file pertained to a writ petition filed by Congress leader and former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in March 2014 against the report of a two-member enquiry committee, which had indicted him, some ministers and bureaucrats for corruption. Through the writ, Hooda had also opposed all subsequent action by the Central government, which included directions to the Haryana government to recommend a CBI probe into the matter.
File returned from CM’s office without notings
In May 2016, the advocate general’s office had recommended withdrawal of Hooda’s writ petition, terming it as inappropriate and not justifiable. Subsequently, the file, along with the opinion of the advocate general, was sent to Khattar, but when it was received back in the office of the additional chief secretary of the state forest department, the entire note sheet and many correspondences were found missing.
The office of additional chief secretary had then registered a case against the CM’s office, stating that it had discovered that the “original file noting and some correspondence pertaining to the file has been misplaced”.
In his complaint to the Chandigarh police on May 21, Chhillar had mentioned that the file pertained to a civil writ petition. He stated that “the main file pertaining to CWP No. 5953/2014 titled as State of Haryana and Principal Chief Conversation of Forest Vs. Union of India, was submitted by the office to Hon’ble CM for taking the decision to withdraw the said writ”.
The additional chief secretary’s office had recorded that when the file returned from the chief minister’s office on March 15, 2018, it had no original file notings that were sent to the CM’s office at the time of submission. The complaint also mentioned that the file was seen by the principal secretary to the chief minister on March 7.
Sensing the gravity of the matter, the office of the additional chief secretary (forest), on April 25, decided to lodge an FIR. The decision was taken following a discussion between the secretary and additional chief secretary, forest. It was decided by the department that efforts would be made to locate the missing file but “if such efforts do not result in locating the missing file, then an FIR to this effect should be registered.” The order had further read: “Quick action into matter please.”
Enquiry committee had indicted Hooda, others
The file was important as it pertained to cases of corruption exposed by Chaturvedi. The writ petition had been filed by the Haryana government in the Punjab and Haryana high court in March 2014 for quashing the report of a two-member enquiry committee constituted by the Centre in September 2010. The committee’s report had indicted Hooda, the then forest minister Kiran Chaudhary, then principal secretary (forest) Keshni Anand Arora and other politicians and bureaucrats for their alleged role in various corruption cases exposed by Chaturvedi.
Ironically, Chhillar’s transfer order, dated June 13, has been issued by Arora, who is now additional chief secretary and financial commissioner. This itself has created a situation where a lady officer indicted in a matter is issuing the transfer orders of another officer who has filed a complaint in that matter.
The two-member panel had also recommended a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against those indicted. Based on its recommendations, the President of India had quashed a departmental chargesheet pending against Chaturvedi in January 2011. This presidential order was implemented by the Haryana governor through a notification in February 2011.
Congress government turned down Centre’s directions
The Hooda government had turned down the Centre’s directions to hand over the investigation of corruption cases exposed by Chaturvedi to CBI. At that time the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was then in the opposition, had supported Chaturvedi and had demanded a CBI investigation into the panel’s findings. It had also disrupted Assembly proceedings over the issue in March 2012.
After the Hooda government’s refusal to hand over the investigation to CBI, Chaturvedi had moved the Supreme Court in November 2012. Subsequently, notices were issued. In March 2014, the Hooda government filed a writ in the high court against the enquiry panel’s report and all subsequent actions of the Central government.
BJP changed stance under Khattar
In May 2016, the advocate general’s office advised the Khattar-led BJP government to withdraw the case and this advice was even recorded in the proceedings of the high court on May 30, 2016. However, when the case was not withdrawn by the Khattar government, Chaturvedi sent a complaint to the governor in November 2017, alleging that the notification issued by his office regarding quashing of the chargesheet in February 2011 was concealed by the state government in the writ petition to help certain corrupt elements. On his complaint, the governor sought a report from the chief secretary on November 23, 2017.
On March 1, this year, Chaturvedi filed an RTI application in various offices of the Haryana government seeking information regarding the status of the decision taken on recommendation sent by advocate general’s office for withdrawal of the case, regarding reports sent by the chief secretary to the governor on his complaint, and all other documents related to the filing of this writ petition and engagement of private counsels.
Initially, the office of the additional chief secretary, forest department, intimated him that the records were not traceable and were being searched for. After that, Chaturvedi sent a protest letter to Khattar last month alleging that his government had been hijacked by certain corrupt bureaucrats. He had also demanded a CBI investigation into the missing files.
Note: This article was edited as the FIR was filed Khattar, not his office. In addition, Rajinder Singh Chhillar was erroneously referred to as a forest officer.