Ashok Lavasa's honesty op-ed 'complete travesty', faced harassment during his tenure as Union Secretary, claims Sanjay Chaturvedi
Magsaysay awardee and anti-corruption crusader-bureaucrat Sanjiv Chaturvedi has written to Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa claiming he faced harassment and hardship when Lavasa was Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forest between 2014 to 2016 and was dealing with Chaturvedi's case of inter-state deputation to Delhi government.
Interestingly, Chaturvedi wrote to Lavasa on 2 January, 2020, a few days after the Election Commissioner published an opinion piece titled as ‘the difficulty of being honest’. The alleged harassment of Lavasa’s family by Central investigative agencies triggered a political storm after he gave a dissent notes against Election Commission's clean chit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah in alleged violation of code of coduct during last year's general election.
Chaturvedi, however, has turned the table on Lavasa and has asked him to clarify whether his opinion on honesty now and action then as Secretary, Ministry of Environment while dealing with his case are contradictory.
Chaturvedi's 90-page letter with 22 annexures, including various court orders and government file noting, alleges that his inter-state deputation, a simple administrative task, was prolonged for 16 months, despite four judicial orders, with an aim to harass him. The services of Chaturvedi, a 2020-batch Indian Forest Service officer, were sought by Delhi government in February 2015, however, it never materialised despite court orders and Ministry of Environment, the cadre controlling authority rejected the case in 2016. Chaturvedi, in his letter to Lavasa, said that rules were violated and facts were twisted to dishonestly reject his case.
“Rule positions were repeatedly violated, and to such an extent, which even compelled the courts to direct you to act strictly as per all India service rule in its order dated 27 April, 2016. Thoroughly illegal orders dated 15 February, 2016, and 18 April, 2016, issued under your explicit approval, had to be nullified by courts," Chaturvedi wrote in his letter to Lavasa.
Lavasa did not respond to multiple calls seeking comment. Providing the details of event in the letter, Chaturvedi said the proposal of his inter-state deputation was considered in February 2015 and a letter was sent to Uttarakhand government (state cadre) seeking No-objection Certificate (NoC). Chaturvedi has alleged that after discussion with the minister, then environment secretary Lavasa overruled proposal of the Ministry of Environment officials and instead proposed to seek opinion of Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) allegedly to delay the matter.
Chaturvedi claimed DoPT opinion was not required under Rule 6(1) of Cadre Rules. Subsequently, after the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) direction, the process was initiated from the beginning in October 2015, almost after a gap of eight months. Uttarakhand government was again asked for NoC on 29 October, 2015, to avoid the contempt of the court.
The Uttarakhand government unconditionally issued the NoC on 26 November, 2015, and Chaturvedi case file was sent to Appointment Committee of Cabinet (ACC) for final approval. However, again on 22 December, 2015, another letter was written by the Ministry of Environment to Uttarakhand government to reconsider the NoC and on 15 February, 2016, Chaturvedi claims his case was rejected by the Ministry allegedly bypassing the ACC: “Kindly clarify in the interest of and as part of a healthy, informed and objective debate on this very sensitive/important issue as to how your various actions in deliberately and willfully keeping my above mentioned case pending and undecided for months (by overruling the lawful opinion of senior Ministry officials, in your own handwriting after 'discussion' with Minister); making frequent U-turns; willfully concealing the documents related to relevant precedence, passing thoroughly illegal orders by usurping the powers of ACC, which were immediately nullified by Courts; various adverse court observations on your malicious actions/inactions and which resulted in my relentless harassment, without any fault and in fact, only for doing my duties honestly and fearlessly fit into overall framework of observations made in your article as you have now triggered a very wide debate on cost of honesty by way of said article (opinion piece),” Chaturvedi asked Lavasa.
His letter further, citing the opinion piece that only those who have faced some difficulties for being honest, should preach and pontificate on honesty in bureaucracy.
“One should not have only practised honesty but also should have actually faced some difficulties for being honest, on a real time basis (rather than making the life of an honest officer difficult), however, in this case, above mentioned court orders and other records indicate differently. In fact, in view of above mentioned categorical court orders/your own file noting, regarding my undue harassment, during your tenure (as Secretary, Ministry of Environment), the above mentioned article appears to be a complete travesty,” Chaturvedi wrote to Lavasa.
The whistleblower bureaucrat went a step further, claiming that Lavasa throughout his career enjoyed good positions both at the state and Centre and his opinion piece on honesty is perplexing. Chaturvedi said Lavasa’s article elaborates in detail about the hardships for supposedly working honestly in discharge of duties, about which everyone is already aware, with plethora of examples already being in public domain.
“However, despite my best efforts, I could not comprehend as to whose sufferings were being alluded in the said article: of yours or anybody else, and could not find any connect in this regard, as there is absolutely no such record available in public domain, of any undue hardship in your case from ruling establishment on any issue of vital public importance, or any major corruption case of any politician/senior bureaucrat being ever brought in public domain or before any enforcement agency/Courts, during any of your posting, rather the service details ( as per ER sheet on DoPT website), reflect a very smooth sailing in which throughout the service, most significant positions in Centre and State, in sectors of Industries, Power, Civil Aviation, Home, Environment & Forests, and Finance, were assigned,” Chaturvedi wrote.
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