The Officer Who Investigated Robert Vadra
43 Transfers in 20 Years
Till last week, not many had heard of senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka, a Kolkata boy from St. Xavier's Collegiate School, with Computer Science engineer from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT KGP - 1984-1988), a Ph.D in Computer Science from The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), apart from holding an MBA and an MA degree in economics
Even the news item on Saturday, October 13, about a whistle-blowing IAS officer in Haryana, who had apparently been transferred for the 43rd time in his career spanning 20 years did not attract much attention.
The story of Director General, consolidations of holdings and land records in Haryana, who had been barely been allowed to last in his post for less than two months before abruptly being transferred as Managing Director of Haryana Seeds Development Corporation (a post previously held by an officer 12 years his junior), was not exactly front page news on the next two days either.
The PTI news report of October 13 quoted him as saying:
"It is shocking to learn about my abrupt transfer...this is deliberate and malafide to punish me due to some vested elements in the political-bureaucratic hierarchy affected by the expose of the scams in consolidation of land holdings under the exercise of powers...
"Forest and hill areas were sought to be partitioned under the garb of consolidation to corner prime plots near highways to build farmhouses or resorts. Panchayats also lost huge lands in consolidation by deliberate under-valuation.
"Not only this, during inspection of land records it was discovered that thousands of acres of panchayat land after illegal mutations in favour of owners were subsequently partitioned into small parcels and sold away...
"My family feels threatened due to certain vested elements whose interests were adversely affected by the exposure of scams in this Department (last posting). I plead for security and fixed tenure in a cadre post befitting my seniority".
During his 50-day stint in the department, Khemka had detected serious irregularities in land transactions involving transfer of panchayat land worth several hundred crores of rupees to newly created real estate companies and asked for an enquiry into various transactions in Gurgaon, Faridabad and Yamunanagar districts.
'Like a girl who is raped'
On Sunday, October 14, Mr Khemka told the CNN-IBN:
"India is not a banana republic... There are scoundrels in the system. And you get transferred. Your peers and seniors.. everybody points an accusing finger at you, saying 'We told you so'. It is like a girl who is raped by scoundrels and the society points the finger at her and tells her, 'Look the fault lies in you' ... The unfortunate part is that the laws were framed with noble objectives but there are scoundrels in the system, who misuse them ... "
Demanding investigation into his charges, he added: "I would personally like that a clarification is done after an open investigation and enquiry so that the people's faith in the government of the day is restored"
Probing Robert Vadra Land Deals
But the penny did not drop till the Hindu ran a front-page headline on Tuesday, October 15: Senior official probing Vadra-DLF land deal shunted out:
A top official in the Haryana government’s land registration department was transferred hours after he initiated a probe into all the land dealings of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in four districts of the State neighbouring Delhi, The Hindu can disclose.
The ruling Congress establishment's response was predictably to clutch on to technicalities and point out that since he was transferred on October 11, it was not proper for him to issue orders for an inquiry across four districts into the “alleged under-valuation of some properties registered by Shri Robert Vadra or his companies as vendor or vendee” on October 12 or, worse, on October 15, the last day of his tenure before handing over charge, cancel the mutation of the 3.531- acre plot that Mr Vadra’s company, M/s Sky Light Hospitality, had sold to DLF Universal Ltd on September 18, 2012.
While Mr Khemka, well-regarded as an honest and upright IAS officer, did not directly link his investigations into l'affaire Rober Vadra in his first letter protesting his transfer to the Chief Secretary, Haryana, on October 12, he pointed out that he had begun making enquiries into various land-deals of Mr Vadra ever since serious doubts were raised about them on October 5 in Mr Arvind Kejriwal's press conference of October 5, followed by detailed press-coverage and revelations in prominent national dailies and TV channels. Being the man in charge of land-registrations and consolidations in Haryana, he felt duty-bound to investigate.
Mr Khemka pointed out that his motivations into initiating investigations were simple: "The confidence of the people must be restored in public offices. So if the allegations being levelled are wild, let it come out. And if the allegations are true, then certainly actions must be called for. " As the Hindu reports:
Mr. Khemka reiterated the fact that he was issued his transfer orders at 10 pm on October 11, after he had issued written instructions to the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to procure land registration data from the districts that had not submitted this to him when he had asked them to do so. He had an argument with the deputy commissioner of one of the key districts under the scanner that morning over the latter’s failure to send the data. “I told this officer that if he did not do so, I would issue him a DO letter, and I followed this up, by issuing a written authorisation to the NIC to procure the data...
But still, was it really OK for Mr Khemka to order investigation into Mr Vadra's various land deals and cancel the mutation of land favouring DLF after he had received his transfer orders?
As Mr Khemka pointed out to reporters today: "I served as IG, Registration till 4:30 pm yesterday, the time when I relinquished charge."
So clearly, he was within his rights, as he held the designation till he relinquished charge, and, as he said, he would have been running away from his duty if he did not pass these orders against a patent illegality that had come to his knowledge.
Now, did he have the right to cancel the mutation favouring DLF? As he wrote in his order of October 12,
"during the pendency of the consolidation proceedings without the sanction [for mutation] of the Consolidation Officer was against the provisions of section 30 of the Consolidation Act ibid. The mutation No 4513 sanctioned on 20.09.2012 by the Assistant Consolidation Officer was also without jurisdiction, since he is not a Revenue Officer under the Punjab Land Revenue Act."
He went on to order an inquiry across four districts of Haryana into the “alleged under-valuation of some properties registered by Shri Robert Vadra or his companies as vendor or vendee” and asked that it be completed by October 25. [See Order dated October 12, 2012 that follow in the Scribd documents]
He further expanded on this in his interview to the Business Standard:
License on discretion is now being misused and is used for money making business. Just see how land parcel of 7.5 crores could be changed to Rs 65 cores in few days, just because of license. Licensing now has become biggest source of corruption. So much profit is being cornered by few including developers and middle men. I am just seeking the benefit should be equally transferred to all.
Even SC in its judgment has said land is a natural resource. I just want that the government keep this thing in mind.
He also pointed out that actually the entire sale of the land to DLF was questionable. Since the land was under consolidation, ordinarily the sale deed ought to have been set aside. But since he was not the revenue authority to do so, he could not cancel the sale. But he did have the authority to cancel the mutation which he proceeded to do.
Was he still within his rights to do so?
As he told the Hindu:
“I had sent my letter to the Chief Secretary on October 12 and was waiting for a reply from him. I held on to the charge in protest till the 15th, but when I did not hear from him, I issued the order on the Shikohpur–Manesar deal and then relinquished charge of the department. As the head of the department I was only doing my duty to clear the department of any allegation of wrongdoing.”
Did he ask for a transfer himself?
Haryana government in its press release also — incredibly— maintained that he was transferred in accordance with his wishes, as he had asked for a transfer himself from the Chief Secretary.
Mr Khemka explained that he indeed had asked to be relieved from the post of special collector — one of the four charges -- director-general consolidation of land holdings and land records cum inspector-general registration, special collector and special land acquisition officer -- held by him which was below his rank: “But I had never asked them to relieve me as Director-General Land Consolidation. The government is trying to mix two things.”
Indeed, he maintains that he “approached the court since special land acquisition officer and special collector were of junior ranks" Accordingly, on Oct 1, the court had directed the Haryana government to post someone else as Special Collector and to relieve Mr Khemka of the charge.
The Haryana government used the opportunity to relieve him from the crucial position of Director-General Land Consolidation as well because by then word of his investigations into l'affaire Vadra had apparently started to leak out to his superiors in the State Secretariat
Why has he made the subject of his transfer public this time when he had not the earlier 42 times?
Mr Khemka took the rape analogy further, in an interview to the Business Standard:
Earlier I ‘was raped with consent’ [an apparent dig at the Haryana politician who recently said that 90% of the rapes are consensual] but this time I have been ‘raped without consent’. As per IAS (Fixation of cadre Strength), Regulations 2010, the rules allow me to work in position for 2 years, but this time I was transferred in few months of my joining.
I joined as Director Land Acquisition on 20 July and was transferred in October. Even in my last assignment, I was transferred in 50 days of my joining .
This time all I am saying is ‘this rape is without my consent’. With regulations guaranteeing me a fixed tenure , All I am demanding is that I should be given what I am guaranteed.
See his interview to Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN:
Brief Time Line
Feb 12, 2008: Robert Vadra buys 3.53 acres Khasra No 730 of village Shikhopur [Hadbast No 160] in Manesar Haryana for Rs 7.5 crores vide Sale Deed No 4928
Feb 13, 2008: The mutation [No 3803] is done in the name of Sky Light Hospitality Ltd, Robert Vadra's company
March 28, 2008: Letter of Intent [LOI] issued by Directory Town and Country Planning Haryana, favouring Vadra's Sky Light Hospitality Ltd allowing change of land use from agricultural and allowing a residential project to be built on 2.701 acres.
June 3, 2008: DLF-Vadra agreement for the sale of this plot for Rs 58 crore. DLF pays first instalment of this "Business Advance" and a total of Rs 50 crores is paid as Advance by 2009 till the sale is registered on Sept 2012
January 18, 2011: Letter of Intent to Vadra's Sky Light Hospitality Ltd renewed for 2.701 acres by Haryana's Town and Country Planning department
August 5, 2011: Village Shikhopur [Hadbast No 160] in Manesar, of district Gurgaon Haryana is re-notified u/s 14(1) under the East Punjab Holdings (Consolidation and Prevention of Fragmentation) Act of 1948
April 3, 2012: Sale of the land allowed
July 25, 2012: In addition to Rs 50 crore already paid, DLF pays additional 8 crore to Vadra's Sky Light Hospitality Ltd
Sep 18, 2012: The 3.53 acres are sold to DLF Universal for Rs 58 crores vide sale deed [No 1435] registered with Asstt Consolidation Officer, Gurgaon.
Sep 20, 2012: Mutation [No 4513] sanctioned for the sale of Sep 18 above
October 8, 2012: The Hindu publishes a detailed report by Shalini Singh: Behind Robert Vadra’s fortune, a maze of questions
October 12, 2012: Ashok Khemka says:
Sale of property on 18.9.2012 during the pendency of the consolidation proceedings without the sanction of the consolidation officer wass against the provisions of section 30 of the Consolidation Act, ibid. The mutation no 4513 sanctioned on 20.9.2012 by the Assistant Consolidation Officer was also without jurisdiction, since he is not a Revenue Officer under the Punjab Land Revenue Act [see Scribd document below]
October 13, 2012: Ashok Khemka goes public with his transfer
October 15: Ashok Khemka cancels mutation favouring DLF and writes: "It is not known what made the Town and Country Planning Department to renew the LOI/licence on January 18, 2011 in favour of the vendor, when 86.2 per cent of the total sales consideration was paid to him by October 10, 2009, that is 15 months before the date of renewal of the LOI/licence." [See Memo dated October 15, 2012 that follow in the Scribd documents]
Full texts of the letters of October 12, October 15 by Mr Khemka, along with Sale Deed and other government documents
Some of the reactions on Twitter:
Updated to add quotes from the Hindu and the Business Standard
The Hindu editorialises: A public-private partnership
Given the questionable decision to transfer Mr. Khemka, the suspicion that the DLF-Vadra private partnership has official support can no longer be sidestepped or dismissed. Admittedly, nothing in the documents produced by the IAC so far establishes or proves wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Vadra or DLF. But the whiff of impropriety is all around and if the party high command still believes it can brazen things out it is making a serious mistake...
The Haryana government says it will now look into Mr. Vadra’s land deals but any probe it launches is unlikely to have credibility. Instead, Mr. Khemka must be reinstated in his post and allowed to complete the inquiries he initiated.
the internal documents confirm that Mr. Khemka’s first meeting on subject, which led eventually to his order cancelling the mutation of a key land transfer from Mr. Vadra to the real estate giant, DLF, was held on October 8, where the sale deed of village Shikohpur and the mutation papers were called for and examined in the presence of district officials.
The Hindu also quotes the October 15 memo [published by us on October 16 -- see Scribd documents for the full memo] and notes this "makes it clear that the process leading to the issuing of a formal order to examine all of Mr. Vadra’s documents began at least three days before Mr. Khemka was transferred"
“In view of serious allegations raised in the media by “India Against Corruption” [IAC] concerning the functioning of registering offices and Consolidation Department, the impugned sale deed of village Shikohpur, District Gurgaon along with mutation was called for on 8th October, 2012, when the district officials were present in a departmental inquiry. On presentation of the said document, an order no. IGR/2012/7185-88 dated 12th October, 2012 addressed to the Deputy Commissioners of Gurgaon, Faridabad, Mewat and Palwal was issued u/s 69(1) of The Registration Act, 1908. Another order bearing no EA4/2012/4620-21 dated 15th October, 2012 under section 42 of the East Punjab Holdings (Consolidation and Prevention of Fragmentation) Act, 1948 is made today. The orders are issued to the concerned. May be taken on record of this office.”
The paper also quotes from a handwritten note of October 12:
“As reported in the press (The Hindu dated 8/10/2012; The Indian Express dated 12/10/2012), it is fit and appropriate to order an enquiry into the registries of lands by Shri Robert Vadra and his companies as regards alleged under-valuations is alleged by IAC [India Against Corruption] and Leader of Opposition of Haryana Vidhan Sabha. In case the allegations are false, the fair name of our registering officer will be cleared in public. In case the allegations are correct, it is appropriate that Shri Robert Vadra compensates the State.....After all, Shri Robert Vadra is a citizen and is amenable to the rule of law like any other ordinary citizen. A detailed order addressed to DCs of Gurgaon, Mewat, Faridabad and Palwal is pasted today and signed. Please issue.”
Varinder Bhatia in the Indian Express: Khemka sought Vadra’s records before transfer:
The Haryana government has said that IAS officer Ashok Khemka was transferred before he ordered a probe into or set aside the land deal between Robert Vadra’s firm Sky Light Hospitality and DLF Universal, in an attempt to prove that the two were not linked. However, copies of official notings with The Indian Express show that on October 8, three days before his transfer, Khemka as the director general, Consolidation of Land Holdings and Land Records, had sought the sale deed and mutation records relating to the Shikhopur deal, “when the district officials were present in a departmental inquiry”.
Further, according to the Haryana Consolidation Department’s records accessed by The Indian Express, the sale deed and mutation documents sought by Khemka from Gurgaon district officials were made available to him on October 11. He was transferred the same evening....
The officer also says it is “very surprising” that neither Vadra nor DLF has reacted to cancellation of the mutation. “They could very well go to the concerned officer and get the mutation done. But what needs to be probed is why the Haryana government is so exasperated.”
Khemka adds that he basically has three questions: a) What does Vadra’s first application, on the basis of which he got the licence to develop a housing colony on the land in question, read?; b) What does Vadra’s second application, on the basis of which his licence was renewed by the Haryana government, read?; c) How and under which law did the Haryana government permit him to trade in the licence along with the sale of the land?
Ashok Khemka breaks down on TV:
Venky Vembu in the First Post: Cry, Ashok Khemka, and drown India in your tears
Appearing on Headlines Today’s panel to discuss the controversy surrounding Sonia Gandhi‘s son-in-law Robert Vadra‘s shadowy real estate dealings with DLF, Khemka, who had cancelled the mutation order relating to a plot of land that Vadra sold DLF on the ground that it was irregular, was accused of “scandalous” conduct “unbecoming of an officer.”
The man who hurled that accusation: KTS Tulsi, senior lawyer of the Supreme Court, who said that for Khemka to pass the order cancelling the mutation on 15 October 2012, four days after receiving his transfer order, was inappropriate. Tulsi also accused Khemka of “wanting to become a martyr and launch a political career.”
At which point, Khemka, one of a rare breed of fearless and incorruptible IAS officers, who has been transferred 43 times in 21 years because he has always been a whistleblower against corruption in land dealings, broke down in front of the cameras...
...Supreme Court lawyer and anti-corruption activist Prashant Bhushan, who too appeared on the panel discussion, smacked down Tulsi, asking if he had “sold his soul” to the Congress. Tulsi responded by trotting out the same old Congress lies about Bhushan’s family’s land acquisition in Himachal Pradesh to run a charitable school.
Official records show that Khemka, a computer engineer who got his first posting as IAS officer in 1993, was transferred 43 times in 19 years with most of his postings lasting merely months.
During this period, he held eight posts in various departments for a month or less. Twelve of his 43 postings, incidentally, were in departments which dealt with 'land' in one way or the other - ranging from acquisition, consolidation, records and revenue management to development.
Executive Record Sheet (ERS) of the ministry of personnel shows that Khemka - an IAS officer of the 1991 batch -- held only two postings that lasted for over a year. He got the first such tenure (one-and-a-half years) during 2005-06 as chief administrator of the urban development department.
Khemka, a joint secretary-level officer, got a slightly longer tenure of one year and 10 months as managing director of the industry department during 2008-10.
His diligence and desire to excel began early. As a classmate from his school recalled, “As a student of Class 4 in St Xavier’s Collegiate School, Kolkata, Khemka had memorised every chapter of Radiant Reader to teach himself English.”
He added that Khemka — an ICSE 6-pointer — had once burst into tears in Class 10 because he had scored 99% — behind another student who had scored 100% — in a mathematics test.
A fellow IAS officer said of Khemka: “He has a passion for learning and is a voracious reader. Few in the government know more about government rules and regulations and technological advances than him.”
The Business Standard editorialises: Ralty Reforms, Now:
Mr Vadra’s company made outsize profits on the sale of three-plus acres of land to the giant real estate developer DLF after the Haryana government issued a land-use notification. Mr Khemka has raised a series of relevant questions about this transaction — such as why the Haryana government confirmed the change-of-use licence in the name of Mr Vadra’s company even after he had sold it to DLF. It appears that Mr Vadra applied for the renewal of a development licence under his company’s name even after he had sold the land; if so the Haryana government must immediately look into the matter to see if Mr Vadra should be held accountable and whether the cancellation of the land transfer – Mr Khemka’s last act in office – was the right response.
That Mr Khemka contends that many thousands of acres of panchayat land have been so treated should be a wake-up call. His transfer within a few days of opening investigations into a large number of transactions, many with high-profile and well-connected beneficiaries, is likely to be seen as suggesting a nexus between the administration in Haryana and the many who have benefited from misusing land consolidation laws.
Kavita Chowdhury & Gyan Varma in the Business Standard -- Ashok Khemka: Whistle-blower, maverick - or both?
An IAS colleague who has known Khemka for three decades told Business Standard: “Khemka lives in a utopian world and believes in being a crusader, fighting the system from within. Not only the government; he has even taken his own batchmates to court over trivial issues. He also has a penchant for grandstanding, calling in the media to ensure coverage.” Like the time Khemka was given a ‘punishment posting’ and was not entitled to get a vehicle; he cycled to work and ensured the press covered it.
When Om Prakash Chautala was the chief minister of Haryana and Khemka was posted as the director of secondary education, the former had asked him to transfer some teachers. Khemka refused to follow the direct order. When Chautala asked why, Khemka replied it was the middle of the academic session and the transfers could affect the students, so he would not.
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