An honest bureaucrat ploughs a lonely furrow. He is seen as an ‘impractical’ man plying his trade in a ‘cesspool’ of corrupt colleagues and politicians. Ashok Khemka has long endured the brunt of his ‘impractical’ nature. Eschewing the cosy comforts accorded to bureaucrats, who choose to be corrupt and are immediately co-opted into the system; Khemka has chosen to swim in the opposite direction.
He has paid a high price for it. Choosing to play by the book in a system which is infested with a melange of venal politicians, greedy power brokers and supine bureaucrats has forced him to lead a life which no one would want. As of today he has been transferred a record 45 times in his 24-year career. That’s roughly an average of two transfers per year. Every six months for the past 24 years of his service to the nation-Khemka has had to pack his bags, relocate his family and move to a new lonely outpost where he has to fight a dark and scary battle against new and alien vested interests all over again. Four months into his latest posting as the Transport Commissioner and Secretary, Transport Department, Government of Haryana; Khemka has again been shunted. This time to an even more irrelevant posting: the Archaeology and Museums Department, a posting that is considered defunct among bureaucratic circles.
As usual the transfer has been couched as ‘routine’ by the state’s top brass. According to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, “He has been transferred on administrative grounds. It is a routine transfer. Depending on the need, officers are transferred. It is a routine process”. This is of course a tenuous claim at best. For one there was nothing routine about Khemka’s short lived tenure at the transport department. During his time there he took on the notorious transport lobby of the state and tried to rein in deeply entrenched interests. “Tried hard to address corruption and bring reforms in Transport despite severe limitations and entrenched interests. Moment is truly painful,” Khemka tweeted.
Khemka’s pain would probably resonate with Sanjiv Chaturvedi, another bureaucrat who has been treated like a football during his tenure in Haryana. Like Khemka, Chaturvedi holds the distinction of being transferred and charge-sheeted for doing his job. Chaturvedi has put in a request to be transferred to the relatively less corrupt Uttarakhand cadre.
In a country, which increasingly wants to become the next China, the only temple we seem to be worshipping is the temple of blind growth. If we can no longer protect people like Khemka who are keeping the system in some semblance of shape; very soon rules will be damned, the safety and sanity of bureaucrat’s who follow those rules will be at risk and worse the best and the brightest of the nation would no longer want to enter the civil services.