Chandigarh: Ashok Khemka, the 1991-batch Haryana cadre IAS officer who came into the spotlight a few years ago for cancelling a land deal between Robert Vadra and DLF, has just been transferred for the 53rd time since his first posting in 1993.
Ashok Khemka has now been transferred to Haryana’s archives, archaeology and museums department as the Principal Secretary from the science and technology department.
The 53-year-old officer was shifted from the state’s sports department to science and technology in March this year.
Khemka looks to be on course to break the record set by cadre colleague Pradeep Kasni, who was transferred 71 times in his 35-year career.
This is the seventh time that the Manohar Lal Khattar government has transferred Khemka in its five years in power, and first after forming government last month for its second tenure. In the preceding 10 years of Congress rule under Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Khemka had been transferred over 21 times.
On Wednesday, Khemka posted a tweet saying he had been transferred again, and that his honesty had been rewarded with insult.
फिर तबादला। लौट कर फिर वहीं।
कल संविधान दिवस मनाया गया। आज सर्वोच्च न्यायालय के आदेश एवं नियमों को एक बार और तोड़ा गया। कुछ प्रसन्न होंगे।
अंतिम ठिकाने जो लगा। ईमानदारी का ईनाम जलालत।
— Ashok Khemka (@AshokKhemka_IAS) November 27, 2019
Time spent in departments
In the course of his 53 transfers, Khemka has spent on average four to nine months in each department. On at least six occasions, he has been transferred out of a department at or around the one-month mark.
He has been given repeated postings in several departments like administrative reforms, personnel and general administration, communications and information technology, and social justice and empowerment.
The longest posting Khemka has ever had was in the Haryana State Warehousing Corporation as managing director from 10 July 2008 to 27 April 2010. He has also served one-year-plus terms as chief administrator of the Housing Board from 2005 to 2007 (one-and-a-half years), then as joint secretary in the department of archives and archaeology from 2013 to 2014, and in his last posting, as principal secretary of sports (November 2017-March 2019).
Under Congress’ Hooda
As mentioned above, Khemka was transferred over 21 times when the Congress’ Hooda ruled the state from 2004 to 2014.
In 2011, Khemka — then posted as director, social justice and empowerment — shot off a series of letters to the chief secretary, alleging he was being “humiliated” by the government as he was being retained on a junior post. He pointed out that officers junior to him were posted as director-generals, commissioners and managing directors, while he continued to be designated as a director.
While in the social justice and empowerment department, he undertook a massive exercise to weed out fake beneficiaries of the old age pension scheme. When lakhs of beneficiaries were found to be fake, the entire process was given a quiet burial and Khemka shifted out of the department in May 2012.
He was next made the managing director of the Haryana State Electronics Development Corporation (HARTRON). But Khemka was shifted out within two months when he started asking tough questions — he had objected to his administrative department hiring consultants and paying them crores from public funds.
Khemka was then posted as special collector and land acquisition officer, and within days, he began questioning the government on its controversial land acquisition and land release policy.
In a letter to the chief secretary, he alleged that these policies had been converted into a “fine art… depriving the poor farmers of their livelihood and wrongly enriching the political bureaucratic nexus”.
He also served as director-general of land holdings, and went on to question the government over amendments to the state’s Land Ceiling Act. Although posted in some innocuous positions in the revenue department, he launched several land probes.
But his claim to fame, which remains his biggest “achievement” till date, is cancelling the land deal between Robert Vadra and DLF in October 2012, which brought Khemka into the national limelight. He was immediately transferred to the Haryana Seeds Corporation, where, as MD, he went on to expose a seed scam, alleging that seeds were being purchased at higher rates by the corporation. He was transferred out of there too, and replaced by an officer five ranks junior to him.
He spent the last year-and-a-half of the Hooda government in the department of archives and archaeology.
Much the same under BJP
Someone who had taken on the Congress when it was in power should have been a natural favourite of the BJP when it came to power in Haryana in October 2014. But this was not to be.
Khemka was made the transport commissioner in November 2014, but remained in that post only for five months, for he had dared to take on the illegal sand mining and transport mafia.
He found himself back in the archaeology department, where he stayed for one year, before being made principal secretary, science and technology, in April 2016. He stayed put in this post for 14 months.
In his next posting, in the department of social empowerment and justice, he was retained for just three months, before being transferred to the sports department in November 2017.
As principal secretary, sports, Khemka had run into a controversy after he ordered that Haryana’s sportspersons working with the state government should deposit one-third of their earnings from commercial and professional commitments to the sports department. The order had elicited huge criticism and the government had to put it on hold.
(This report has been updated to include Khemka’s latest transfer to the list)