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As Haryana IAS officers launch battle of FIRs, hint of yet another Vij-Khattar showdown

Battle between IAS officers Ashok Khemka and Sanjeev Verma centres on the former’s stint as Managing Director of Haryana State Warehousing Corporation over a decade ago.

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New Delhi: A 13-year-old corruption allegation against a senior IAS officer, an alleged bribe of Rs 10 lakh, a number of complaints, and a battle of FIRs — two IAS officers are sparring it out in Haryana.

The battle between Ashok Khemka, a 1991-batch officer of the Haryana cadre, and Sanjeev Verma, a state civil service officer who was promoted to the IAS in 2004, centres on the former’s stint as Managing Director (MD) of the Haryana State Warehousing Corporation (HSWC) over a decade ago. 

Verma currently holds joint charge as MD of the HSWC. 

The open exchange between the two officers teases with hints of possible political undertones too.

Verma is the divisional commissioner of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s constituency, Karnal. Meanwhile, Khemka has found support in this conflict from state Home Minister Anil Vij. 

However, while Vij and Khattar have been known to share a fractious relationship, BJP leaders deny that this is a factor in the tussle between the two IAS officers. 

It was on 20 April that Verma filed an FIR against Khemka, accusing him of irregularities in recruitment. 

On 25 April, Khemka filed a counter-FIR, and also wrote to the Haryana chief secretary seeking action against Verma. Khemka told ThePrint that he was supported in this effort by Vij, who “ensured that the counter-FIR” was filed after Haryana Police “initially showed reluctance” to do so.

Talking to ThePrint, both Khemka and Verma justified their stance. 

Khemka — who is now principal secretary in Haryana’s Cultural Affairs, Archives, Archaeology and Museums Department — called himself the “victim of a sinister design”. 

He said the graft allegations against him had been “investigated by the police and (state) Lokayukta at least three times, but appeared to be false every time”.

Verma said he was acting on the “findings of a three-member committee that had recommended an FIR against Khemka”.

ThePrint has mailed queries to the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) requesting the government’s version on the matter, and is yet to receive a reply.

Calls to Vij, including through his office, went unanswered, as did mail and texts with queries on the matter. 


Also read: Z-Plus security to convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim brings Khattar-Vij rift in Haryana to fore, again


13-year-old allegation

In 2016, a man named Ravinder Kumar lodged a complaint with the Haryana Police seeking an investigation into a person’s recruitment as a manager in the HSWC in 2009. 

According to Kumar, the person was “not eligible” for the post and had paid a bribe of Rs 10 lakh to Khemka to get the job.

ThePrint has accessed the inquiry reports, complaints and FIRs lodged in the case since 2016 and found that the matter was probed at least thrice by police and the Lokayukta between 2016 and 2018, but no cognisable offence was found.

Sanjeev Verma formed a three-member committee comprising officers from the warehousing corporation to further probe the allegations. It is on the basis of this committee’s recommendations that Verma says he lodged an FIR against Khemka.

“There has been no proper investigation of the charges against Khemka. The quota for Dalits and underprivileged was used to earn money and take bribes,” Verma told ThePrint. “There should be a fresh probe and that is the least we can expect. I have only performed my official duty.”

His complaint states that “Ashok Khemka, IAS, who was one of the members of the executive committee being managing director had conducted the interview along with other officers and prepared the merit list of the selected candidates and made appointments in an illegal and arbitrary way by ignoring the rules/regulations”.

Five days after Verma lodged the FIR, Khemka wrote to Haryana Chief Secretary Sanjeev Kaushal, seeking disciplinary action against Verma under Rule 8 of All India Service (AIS) regulations.

He described Verma’s complaint as “false and mischievous”. 

“By making a false complaint with the intent to cause injury, Sanjeev Verma, acting in conspiracy with Ravinder Kumar (the original complainant), abused his official position and attempted to procure punishment of a public servant with a corrupt motive. Appropriate action as per law may be taken against Sanjeev Verma, Ravinder Kumar and others…,” his complaint, accessed by ThePrint, adds.

Khemka said “(Verma’s) allegations are an act of personal vendetta”.

“The contents of the complaint are a falsification of official records and have been made because, being his superior officer, Sanjeev Verma’s misdemeanours were brought to the notice of the government in the past,” he added in the letter. “Through Ravinder Kumar, he caused unauthorised leakage of the false allegations with malicious intent to cause annoyance and injure my reputation. Knowing his past conduct, he will most likely destroy/tamper with the records.”

He said the three-member committee’s inquiry was a “sham” and “conducted in subterfuge, without giving me any opportunity to explain my conduct”.

Defending their stance

Defending his position, Verma told ThePrint that “there has been a crime, and I, as an officer, reported the crime”. 

“Nowhere in the AIS rules is it written that an IAS officer cannot report crime,” he said. “Everything is there before the government. If they want to probe me or my motives, I am open to any inquiry by state or central agencies including the CBI or a court-monitored judicial probe.”

Khemka, meanwhile, called the complaints — old and new — against him a “conspiracy to defame” him.

“It is ridiculous. One cannot say whether this is a concerted political design, but it is surely vindictive. The allegations are motivated by sheer malafide,” he said.

ThePrint reached Kaushal through calls, texts and mails seeking his comments on the issue, but there was no response by the time of publishing this report. 

Explaining how Vij came into the picture, Khemka alleged that the Haryana Police initially refused to register his counter-FIR against Verma. 

“I was told that they need to get approval from the Chief Minister’s Office. I informed the state home minister verbally that the police officers were not registering my complaint. After his intervention, the FIR was registered,” he said.

Vij, Khemka added, held a meeting with senior police officers in his presence and ensured that the complaint was lodged. 

“The home minister took it upon himself to remedy the situation in the best way he could. I am thankful for his intervention,” he said.

When asked about Khemka’s allegation, a senior police officer in Panchkula said they were just “following procedures and the standard protocol defined in case of registering complaints against IAS officers”.

Politics at play?

Vij and the CM have shared an openly antagonistic relationship. In 2020, for example, Khattar brought the state’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) under his wing, though it was traditionally under the purview of the home department, which is led by Vij.

“The situation got so complicated in 2020 that our national (BJP) president (J.P.) Nadda ji had to intervene,” said a senior BJP leader of the state.

Then, in July 2021, Vij alleged that some officers were obstructing his departmental work to “please” Khattar. Earlier this year, the grant of security to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh also became a subject of dissonance between the two.

On the latest showdown, the senior BJP leader said: “Anil ji always wants to show to the people that he is with the honest, and that is why he has come out publicly in support of Khemka. He is known as an honest officer and there is speculation that Khemka may join the AAP.”

Asked about the IAS officers’ tiff and its possible political underpinnings, Haryana BJP General Secretary Vedpal said both Khattar and Vij have a “different way of working”.

“Their opinion may differ on subjects. But, ultimately, they are working in the state’s interest. There is no such difference between Anil Vij and the chief minister on these officers,” he added.

The BJP General Secretary in charge of Haryana, Vinod Tawde, said these “are administrative issues, and both leaders are very very senior”. 

“One is our chief minister and another is in charge of home. Anil Vij ji is a veteran in the party,” he added. “We just want to say that these leaders should do things nicely and cordially. The party has not intervened in the issue yet.”

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)


Also read: ‘We may have differences, but our resolve is to run govt strongly’, Vij at joint PC with Khattar


 

 

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