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Ms Jayanthi Natarajan, is this the way to protect whistleblowers?

In an earlier avatar as member of a parliamentary standing committee, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan had helped formulate a Whistleblower’s Protection Bill. As currently formulated, a whistleblower is entitled to protection and his complaint has to be redressed in a time-bound fashion.

Her bill is still pending in Parliament for enactment, but Natarajan is today in the embarrassing position of sitting on a whistleblower’s complaint for over a month now.

The whistleblower is an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer of the Haryana cadre, Sanjiv Chaturvedi. He has allegedly been harassed for blowing the lid off several scams in Haryana.

Two cabinet ministers, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, have rejected a panel of names which included Chaturvedi's name for a deputation at the centre.

Jayanthi Natarajan

Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan. AFP

An enquiry committee set up by his cadre ministry – the ministry of environment and forests — has acknowledged that Chaurvedi was wronged by the Haryana government and recommended that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should investigate the matter. The Supreme Court had fined the Haryana government Rs 1 crore in a scam case put up by Chaturvedi.

The CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) have now recommended to Natarajan that Chaturvedi’s complaint is fit for investigation by the CBI, but under the law this needs her approval.

The concerned file is with her office.

On 1 November 2011, the CBI, with the approval of the CBI director, wrote to CVC: “The issues raised by Sanjiv Chaturvedi were analysed in the CBI and were found to be worthy of an independent probe.’’ But, the CBI said, it could investigate only if the Haryana police registered an FIR in the case and the Central Government gave its approval for investigations.

On 16 December 2011, the CVC wrote to the environment ministry: “The ministry is advised to take up the matter of registration of FIR with the state government and subsequent transfer of the case to the CBI.’’

After the usual bureaucratic delays, the file reached Jayanthi Natarajan’s desk on 12 January 2012. The file contains the names of around half-a-dozen IAS and IFS officers, a former forest minister in the Haryana government (now excise minister and Bansi Lal’s daughter-in-law) Kiran Chaudhary, and two OSDs (officers on special duty) – RR Beri and RD Sheokand – to Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

The file, if handed over to the CBI for investigation, may create ripples in the Hooda government, leading to the discovery of the involvement of prominent politicians in Haryana in various irregularities, including the CM’s office and senior bureaucrats. Environment ministry sources revealed that five days after Jayanthi Natarajan received the file, Kiran Chaudhary visited her office on 17 January 2012.

This reporter left several messages on the telephone with Natarajan’s office and even emailed a questionnaire to obtain the minister’s version, but she neither replied to the mail nor got back for several days. Needless to say, if Firstpost gets her version of events, we will publish it.

Sanjiv Chaturvedi, a 1992 batch IFS officer, had complained against then Haryana Forest Minister Kiran Chaudhary saying she allowed the construction of herbal park with public funds worth crores of rupees on a private plot belonging to independent MLA Parhlad Singh Gillakhera (now chief parliamentary secretary in the Haryana government).

Other matters that Sanjiv Chaturvedi flagged include:

• Multi-crore plantation scams in Jhajjar (Haryana) by siphoning off funds from the Central government and International Donor Agencies. Some 40 field staff officials were suspended, but no action was taken against senior officers.

• Large-scale destruction and poaching in the Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary, Kurukshetra, during the tenure of then Chief Wildlife Warden RD Jakati. The Supreme Court had imposed a fine of Rs 1 crore on the state government.

• Another independent MLA’s relative was given a licence for a large plywood unit in Hisar for a fee of Rs 21,000 only, when the licence fee was and is Rs 25 lakh!

• Plantation scam at Lui Mithathal Feeder, Hissar. The Central government’s money is involved.

Faced with an alert officer, the state government has resorted to frequent transfers of Chaturvedi. It launched criminal cases against him and imposed a five-month suspension. A charge-sheet is alleged to have been fabricated and this was kept pending for three-and-a-half years to ensure that Chaturvedi did not get any promotion or posting on deputation with the central government.

Chaturvedi took the issue to the Centre by writing a memo to President Pratibha Patil in August 2010. Then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh constituted a committee to enquire into Chaturvedi’s allegations. The committee found him innocent and recommended a CBI investigation against all erring officials flagged by Chaturvedi.

Jairam Ramesh revoked the Haryana government’s chargesheet, but instead of ordering a CBI enquiry, he asked the state government to investigate the matter.

The Haryana government, however, refused to play ball. It sent back the file to the ministry for reconsideration in March 2011.

Jairam Ramesh refused to reconsider it and instead asked the CVC for its opinion. By then Jayanthi Natarajan had replaced Jairam Ramesh as environment minister. And CVC has now advised her to initiate a CBI enquiry. So far, she has not acted on the file.

Strangely, in the absence of any action, Sanjiv Chaturvedi, the whistleblower, continues to be victimised. It is a known fact that the Central government has an acute shortage of deputy secretary level officials. Chaturvedi’s name is there in a panel for appointment to the centre on deputation.

When his panel went to Communications Minister (with additional charge of HRD) Kapil Sibal on 15 December 2011, Sibal scrapped the entire panel.

Chaturvedi’s panel was again put up to another Union Minister Anand Sharma on 6 February 2012. But even he scrapped the panel.

On the other hand, officers accused in the file continue to enjoy plum postings. Former Haryana Chief Secretary Keshani Arora, who was a key player dealing with Chaturvedi and frequent transfers, is working on deputation with the Central Government and posted in Chandigarh. Former Chief Wildlife Warden Jakati, who is named for alleged large scale destruction of forests and poaching in the Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary, is Director, National Forest Academy, in Dehradun and is teaching trainee IAS officers about conservation of forests.

Chaturvedi continues to languish and has become an untouchable for he dared blow the whistle. He holds a non-descript post – Divisional Forest Officer (Production) in Hissar. And he is still waiting to be rewarded for his role as a whistleblower.

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