What prompted bureaucrat Ashish Joshi to turn into a whistleblower and take on another bureaucrat within the Delhi government? Was it an act of revenge, or a call of duty for his profession?
About a year ago, in mid-April 2015, Joshi, a 1992-batch Indian Post and Telecommunication Accounts and Finance Service (IP&TAFS) officer, received a letter at his residence from the Delhi government that he had been repatriated to his parent cadre – P&T Accounts and Finance Service. He wasn’t even allowed to use his official car to visit his office the next morning.
A month later, he lodged a written complaint with Delhi’s Anti-Corruption Branch against the recently arrested 1989-batch IAS officer Rajendra Kumar, principal secretary to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, for his alleged corruption and misuse of his position in favouring a private firm.
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Joshi, who was Member-secretary (Finance) of the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), said that it was the oath (We, the public servants of India, do solemnly pledge that we shall continuously strive to bring about integrity and transparency in all spheres of our activities…) that the government officials take while observing the National Vigilance Awareness week that compelled him to lodge a complaint against the corruption within the Delhi government.
Do you think that the arrest of Rajendra Kumar by the CBI has reached its legitimate end?
Due process of law has been followed. Based on the complaint made, it has been taken to a logical end. CBI is still investigating the matter and has come to know more which I wasn’t aware of. The matter is now sub-judice.
What was the reason behind your unceremonious removal from the post of member-secretary?
As member-secretary of the Delhi Dialogue Commission (DDC), I formulated mechanisms to run the DDC systematically and for the appointment of experts in the commission’s panel. The basic objective of the DDC was to function similar to the Planning Commission, so we needed experts from different fields.
I wanted to bring in professionals, but DDC vice chairperson Ashish Khetan wanted to appoint party volunteers as experts by flouting the rules. I strongly objected to it. That, along with my objections to some serious issues within the DUSIB didn’t go down well with the government.
You didn’t lodge your complaint with the ACB while you were holding the post, but did it after you were asked to leave. Was it a kind of revenge?
There’s no question of revenge. It was the oath we government officials take while observing the National Vigilance Awareness week that compelled me to lodge a complaint against the corruption.
Like many other officials, I too was aware of the corruption undertaken by Rajendra Kumar, but I had no evidence to prove it. A month after I quit, some officials (I still don’t know them personally) from the Delhi government came to me with documented proof pertaining to the financial irregularities done by Rajendra Kumar.
I filed a written complaint with Delhi’s Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB). When no action was initiated even after a month, I lodged a complaint to the CBI. During the process of investigation, the CBI sought the papers from ACB.
If you were aware of the corruption back then, why didn’t you raise an alarm against Kumar?
How can I complain against a senior IAS officer without valid proof? I did it after I got documented proof.
What were the specifics of the complaint against Rajendra Kumar?
When Kumar was Director in the education department, and later as secretary (IT), he ensured that all IT related work in various departments should go to a particular private firm, Endeavours Systems Pvt Ltd, which was empanelled with ICSIL, a PSU.
The modus operandi was that it looked as if it was the ICSIL that was undertaking the job, which was not the fact. There were 10 companies empaneled with this PSU, but only this particular private company benefited. In case of any government work involving a large amount of money, a tender has to be floated. As secretary, Health & Family Welfare and commissioner, VAT, he flouted these norms to get contracts and tenders in favour of the said private firm. Transparency International also lodged a complaint in this matter.
What made Rajendra Kumar so important in the eyes of Arvind Kejriwal, in spite of the allegations of corruption against him, that he continued as the latter’s principal secretary right until he was arrested?
Because, he had not been following the laid down guidelines and rules in carrying out official work. Whatever order, CM Kejriwal used to issue, he carried it out, which many other officials didn’t. He was best suited for the purpose. One such officer, Anindo Majumdar, who’s currently chief secretary, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, had refused to comply with such arbitrary functioning. As a result, his room was locked and he was shunted out. The then secretary of Health department, who’s in central deputation at present, went on leave in protest.
Is it true that you were finally asked to leave the DDC on the allegation that you consumed ‘Gutka’ and smoked cigars inside your office chamber?
Yes, they used all kind of lies to ensure my ouster. I take paan-masala and even smoke cigarettes (not cigar) sometimes. As a responsible officer, who has served in various capacities at the Centre including at CAG office, I positively wouldn’t do any such act, like smoking inside an office chamber.
Moreso, if this is the reason, then a major chunk in the government will be out of a job. The actual reason was different. I was repatriated without any notice. As per the DoPT service rules, the borrowing organisation (Delhi government and DDC) has to give a three-month notice to the officer of the parent organisation (to me), which wasn’t followed. I objected to it and wrote to respective secretaries of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Telecom on this issue. As a result, they forced my exit from the Delhi government using ‘gutka’ and ‘cigar’ as excuses.
What was your immediate reaction after you were repatriated?
Initially, it was difficult for me. When I was repatriated to my parent cadre, I got posted in Uttarakhand, where I’m working at present. I had to leave my family in Delhi due to my daughter’s education, who’s completing her schooling. I had to give up my official residence. But, in hindsight, I feel that it was a blessing in disguise. It would have been extremely suffocating and disturbing, if I had to continue in the Delhi government.
It seems that there’s resentment amongst the bureaucracy in the Delhi government. How far is it from the truth?
There’s tremendous resentment among the bureaucrats and nobody wants to work. Many have moved to the Centre, as they are demoralised. The process of consultation and democratic ways has taken a back seat. There’s no mutual respect. Senior officials are badly humiliated by the CM and his ministers. I’m very happy that I have moved out.
What do you have to say about the functioning of the Delhi government, given its response in the Rajendra Kumar incident, which speaks of corruption at a top level in the bureaucracy?
The test of any state government against corruption depends on the appointments it makes at crucial and critical posts in the government, like chief secretary, director general of police, principal secretary to CM etc. The officers need to be honest, with impeccable integrity. This sends the message against corruption down the line in bureaucracy. Meritocracy gets rewarded. An officer with doubtful integrity is bound to give a bad name to a government, and every state government should be aware of it. Mere slogans of anti-corruption and good governance do not work.
What’s the reason behind the constant friction between CM Kejriwal on one hand, and Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and the Centre on the other?
The status of Delhi is different from a regular state, so is its functioning. They have taken an antagonistic stand against the Centre. One needs to understand that Delhi isn’t just another state government, but a union territory with the status of national capital territory. Governance involving consultation, discussion and mutual trust is best suited for Delhi.
Is it going to adversely impact the citizens of Delhi, who voted the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to power?
There will be an adverse impact on the implementation of schemes meant for the welfare of the people.