NEW DELHI — The Narendra Modi government ran down the clock for 16 months before the Appointments Committee of Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister, ultimately rejected Magsaysay award winning Indian Forest Service officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi’s request to serve as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s anti-corruption officer, official documents reviewed by HuffPost India reveal.
As a consequence, the term of Chaturvedi’s central deputation had ended by the time the ACC finally handed down its decision — making it pointless for him to challenge its decision.
These bureaucratic delays, despite repeated directions from the Central Administrative Tribunal to give time bound decisions, and the subsequent rejection of Chaturvedi’s request was choreographed by current Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, who was the environment Secretary at the time, seemingly at the behest of the Modi government.
As Delhi goes to polls on Feb 8, these revelations from the beginning of Kejriwal’s term in 2015-16 offer a fresh insight into the Aam Aadmi Party-led government’s well-documented tussle with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led union government over who got to govern the city-state of Delhi. Further, they also show the lengths to which the Narendra Modi-led administration sought to frustrate the Arvind Kejriwal-led administration’s plans.
“...documents relating to Chaturvedi’s proposed transfer show Ashok Lavasa diligently following the Modi government’s priorities, even in the face of adverse orders from the Central Administrative Tribunal.”
The documents also cast a fresh light on Lavasa. While Lavasa and his family have been repeatedly targeted by enforcement agencies loyal to the Narendra Modi-led Central government after his dissenting orders during the general election last year against Modi and union minister Amit Shah for their speeches; documents relating to Chaturvedi’s proposed transfer show Lavasa diligently following the Modi government’s priorities, even in the face of adverse orders from the Central Administrative Tribunal.
“This case is a live testimony of how nexus of politicians and bureaucrats work, as bureaucrats are given perfect immunity by politicians for complying with their illegal orders, in lieu of joint partnership in various corrupt practices,” Chaturvedi has claimed in a recent letter to Lavasa, reported on in sections of the press including FirstPost. The IFS officer wrote the letter contesting and questioning claims made by Lavasa in an opinion article for The Indian Express.
When this reporter asked him to explain the strongly worded remarks in the letter, Chaturvedi refused to comment.
HuffPost India has reached out to Lavasa for responses to Chaturvedi’s claims as well as questions which arise out of official documents which are part of the records relating to the proposal to appoint the IFS officer in Kejriwal’s office. This report will be updated when he responds.
How Lavasa Steered The Proposal
On 16 February 2015, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal wrote to the environment minister Prakash Javadekar requesting Chaturvedi’s services as his anti-corruption chief. Kejriwal wrote to Javadekar since the environment ministry is the cadre controlling authority of the Indian Forest Service.
The Aam Aadmi Party had swept to power on the promise of cleaning up Delhi’s self-dealing culture a few days prior; appointing Chaturvedi—an officer with a documented reputation for rectitude—would have fulfilled a major campaign promise of cracking down on corruption.
Chaturvedi, originally an Indian Forest Officer (IFS) from the Haryana cadre, had changed his cadre to Uttarakhand after he was harassed in Haryana for clamping down on corruption. In 2012, the Uttarakhand government permitted him to go on central deputation and he was appointed as the Chief Vigilance Officer of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. This clearance from Uttarakhand was valid for four years upto 28 June 2016—which would have given him a year at the helm of the Delhi’s government’s anti-corruption efforts.
In Kejriwal’s letter to Javadekar, the Delhi Chief Minister attached a note from Chaturvedi, consenting to this move from AIIMS to the post of an Officer on Special Duty in Kejriwal’s office.
For the next 16 months, Kejriwal’s request resulted in substantial correspondence and paperwork between the environment ministry on the one hand and the Uttarakhand state government, union ministry of health and family welfare, and the union government’s Department of Personnel and Training on the other. The issue kept dragging on despite multiple directions from the Central Administrative Tribunal to resolve it within specific deadlines.
The documents on file show that the deadline breaches happened despite Lavasa, environment secretary at the time, closely monitoring the fate of the proposal. Environment minister Prakash Javadekar was also in the loop and gave directions or approval on a few occasions.
In a handwritten note dated 24 February 2015, a week after Kejriwal first made his request, Lavasa sought the opinion of the DoPT on two counts — Chaturvedi had previously filed an application in the Central Administrative Tribunal regarding his inter-cadre transfer from Haryana to Uttarakhand and minister Prakash Javadekar had asked his ministry’s officials to discuss the matter. Also, DoPT controls the CSS or Central Staffing scheme. Chaturvedi was appointed in AIIMS under this scheme of the DoPT.
Initially, in February 2015, the environment ministry officials noted that No Objection Certificates were needed from the health ministry as Chaturvedi was working at AIIMS, and from the Uttarakhand government because that was his parent cadre. Correspondence was accordingly initiated with both but, after much back and forth, the NOCs came through many months later.
In a letter dated 6 November 2015, the Uttarakhand government gave its NOC and permitted Chaturvedi to work in Kejriwal’s office till 29 June 2019 and the health ministry gave its NOC a week before on 30 October 2015.
However, on 6 January 2016, the Uttarakhand government withdrew its NOC to Chaturvedi in response to a letter from the environment ministry dated 22 December 2015 asking it to reconsider the clearance. The IFS officer, known for his effective crackdown against corruption, claimed during the hearing at the CAT that this was done under pressure from Lavasa and that, in a subsequent communication dated 24 February 2016, the state had restored the NOC.
Multiple handwritten as well as typed notes on official documents show that Lavasa asked his officials to seek views from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Department of Personnel and Training several times for different reasons and over several months beginning on 24 February 2015 till at least 13 November 2015.
In his letter to Lavasa, quoted earlier in this report, Chaturvedi has criticised the handwritten note dated 24 February 2015 claiming that it contributed to the delay in processing his case and “was not required under Rule 6 (1) of Cadre rules”.
“Undoubtedly, a lot of delay has taken place in processing this case considering the fact that the request letter of the Chief Minister of GNCTD to Minister of State, MoEFCC is dated 16.02.2015.”
Though the environment ministry, acting under approval from Lavasa, sought NOCs from other government entities about the matter as well as from the DoPT, it was never in favour of approving the proposal. This is evident in its internal documents as well as its correspondence with the Modi-led DoPT. For instance, in its proposal note regarding the deputation of Chaturvedi in Kejriwal’s office that it sent on 26 November 2015 to the DoPT, the environment ministry mentioned the obligatory “cooling off” period of 3 years after one central deputation for officials.
This was significant because Chaturvedi was on central deputation to AIIMS till June 2016.
So, the environment ministry said to the DoPT that, “Further, the requirement of “Cooling Off” for change in nature of deputation within Rule 6 may also be considered”.
Thus implying that Chaturvedi was not eligible for being appointed as Kejriwal’s OSD and that he ought to go back to Uttarakhand for a term of three years before trying for another deputation outside the state.
This negative inclination about the proposal appears to have had an adverse impact on the speed at which the proposal, which ideally needed to go from the environment ministry to the DoPT and from there to the ACC for approval within few weeks, moved within the Modi government’s bureaucracy. In an order dated 24 April 2016, the CAT observed, “Undoubtedly, a lot of delay has taken place in processing this case considering the fact that the request letter of the Chief Minister of GNCTD to Minister of State, MoEFCC is dated 16.02.2015.”
The Role Of The Modi-led ACC
Since the environment ministry, under Lavasa, continued its correspondence with the DoPT over months, the proposal was never considered by the Modi-led Appointments Committee of the Cabinet before June 2016 save for one instance. On 4 February 2016, the ACC merely saw the proposal but did not arrive at a decision about it.
“Documents show that the Modi-led Appointments Committee of Cabinet finally considered the proposal on 21 June 2016 only because it was directed to do so by the Central Appointments Tribunal in an order on 2 June 2016.”
Documents show that the Modi-led ACC finally considered the proposal on 21 June 2016 only because it was directed to do so by the Central Appointments Tribunal in an order on 2 June 2016.
“It is not a matter of dispute, that the period of deputation of the applicant, on the present post would come to an end on 28.06.2016 and the respondents have not yet complied with the indicated directions. At the same time, the ACC was required to decide the matter of inter-cadre deputation of the applicant, as expeditiously as possible, but in vain,” the CAT noted in the order, critiquing the Modi-led ACC for the first time. The applicant, in this case, was Chaturvedi.
The ACC plays a critical role in appointments of this nature as it has the power to enforce, or waive off, the three year “cooling off” period for state cadre officers on central deputation.
Before the 2 June 2016 order, Chaturvedi repeatedly told the CAT that the ACC was not considering his proposal. The CAT was largely sympathetic towards Chaturvedi on the issue of delay but it also said that it was up to the ACC to grant exemption to the “cooling off” rule.
About waiving off the cooling off requirement, in its order dated 27 April 2016, the CAT held that, “it is solely within the domain of the ACC to grant special dispensation, as has been done in quite a few cases in the past or to take a decision otherwise. What is really important is that the ACC should take a decision in the matter.”
In several orders prior to the 2 June 2016 order, the CAT benches strongly remarked upon delays caused by the Ashok Lavasa and Prakash Javadekar-led environment ministry as well as the Narendra Modi-led DoPT in processing the proposal.
In an order dated 24 April 2016, for instance, the CAT observed, “Undoubtedly, a lot of delay has taken place in processing this case considering the fact that the request letter of the Chief Minister of GNCTD to Minister of State, MoEFCC is dated 16.02.2015.”
But even this wasn’t enough for the Modi government to act.
By now, time was running out for Chaturvedi as his central deputation was fast coming to a close.
On 2 June 2016, the CAT, in no uncertain terms, directed the Modi-led ACC to take a decision on Chaturvedi’s appointment as his deputation was coming to a close that month.
“It would be expedient in the interest of justice, if the respondents are directed to decide the matter of inter-cadre deputation of the applicant before 28.06.2016, otherwise, applicant would suffer irreparable loss in this regard,” the CAT noted.
On 21 June 2016, a week before Chaturvedi’s term under central deputation ended, the Modi-led ACC finally gave its order. Chaturvedi’s proposal had been rejected. Chaturvedi would have to spend his mandatory 3 year cooling off period in Uttarakhand before he could be considered for another post. Chaturvedi appealed against the ACC’s decision, but by then it was too late.