Having finally made it to the Centre after 23 years in service, all eyes are on controversial babu Ashok Khemka. Will he stick to his DNA and chase the corrupt or merely be happy being yet another ‘babu’ lost in the corridors of power?
The Modi government has made the right noises about empowering laggard bureaucracy raising expectations of a heavy shake-up in the steel frame ruling Indian for sixty-plus years.
Khemka might be the perfect test case given his proclivity to challenge the powerful. He has served so far in Haryana where his longest stint has been 21 months when he was the managing director of Warehousing Corporation Ltd.
Having already been transferred 45 times, his shortest stint has been 19 days when he was appointed as director and special secretary in agriculture department. These stats are unprecedented in the sense that they amply capture how he has managed to be always on the wrong side of the government in the state.
His passage to Delhi is indeed an important milestone but many see it being fraught with fresh challenges. Not just the canvas but the well established layered approach to decision making might be among many hiccups he is likely to face.
The Prime Minister is vocal about a direct engagement with Secretary-level officials but not interfacing right away down the ladder. Not that solo performs would not be welcomed so long as they integrate their thought process with the overall objectives of the government.
Given little elbow room available to him as of now, questions are beingraised as to why the government has decided to bring him onboard? To send a message that clean bureaucrats will be given charge or to score a political brownie point over Congress.
Khemka brings with him established experience in dealing with land issues. The government is toying with the idea of making significant changes in the land law framework.
He has repeatedly defied political and bureaucratic pressure and has not even spared his colleagues by filing RTIs in his aim to expose them. In Centre, Khemka would encounter several of his juniors who got to move to Delhi ahead of him.
He was charge-sheeted by the Haryana government and he accused the government of sitting over his performance appraisal report for the period 2012-2013, the year when he cancelled mutation of the land deal of Vadra and DLF.
After the Vadra controversy, Khemka was sent to Haryana Seeds Corporation. In this job, he unearthed pesticide and seed scams. This resulted in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture tasking the state to probe the issues. His role was finally ‘archived’ when he was posted as director general of Archives & Archaeology of Haryana.
Earlier his stint at the department of Social Justice & Empowerment in 2011 resulted in opening up of 20 lakh bank accounts of pensioners, integrating them with the database and disbursing Rs 550 crore. He weeded out one lakh bogus recipients saving Rs 75 crore to the state annually.
As the managing director of Haryana State Electronics Development Corporation (HARTRON), Khemka exposed several corrupt practices in the department.
In September 2004, when Khemka was director of secondary education department, he refused to entertain orders from the then chief minister Om Prakash Chautala’s office which wanted transfers of teachers.
In the early 90s, he refused to entertain request from the Congress, then ruling the state, to transport people to the party’s rally.