Thursday, May 28, 2015

Nitin Sethi: Central Administrative Tribunal quashes Modi-led panel's orders against whistleblower Sanjiv Chaturvedi - orders violate natural justice and without justification

Orders of the two-member Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, against whistle-blower officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi, have been struck down by the Central Administrative Tribunal. The tribunal held that the orders were against the principles of natural justice and were made without justification. Quashing the orders of the ACC, the tribunal on Wednesday ordered the committee to decide on Chaturvedi’s change of cadre in a time-bound manner based on the large set of evidences the officer produced of harassment and threat in his parent cadre state Haryana.
  
The tribunal, prima facie found that Chaturvedi had gone through extreme hardship for blowing the lids of several scams but the ACC had ignored these facts on record while deciding on his plea for change of cadre. The tribunal noted in its orders, “there is very little scope for the ACC to decline the approval (to Chaturvedi’s cadre change). However no reasons have been assigned by the ACC for this decision thereby violating the rules of natural justice.” 

Quoting Rabindra Nath Tagore’s famous lines, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high...in to that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake,” 
CAT ordered “We do hope and trust that the situation may never arise, where honesty is punished and corruption awarded. Such a system cannot be expected to last a long time.” 
It ordered, “We hope the respondents (the Union government) have taken note of the points raised by applicant...regarding extreme hardship and relentless persecution merely because of carrying out the duties assigned to him under law.”

The appointments committee of the cabinet (ACC) is a two member body of the Prime Minister and the home minister but the home minister is permitted to accept the decisions of the committee post facto. CAT is a judicial body that decides on matters pertaining to All India Service officers such as the administrative services, police services and forest officials of the country. 

The ACC had over-ruled the state of Haryana, Uttarakhand and the environment ministry recommending Chaturvedi’s transfer of cadre to the hill state after he pleaded for one citing the threat and extreme hardship he faced in Haryana. The ACC instead of deciding on the matter conclusively, as required by the regulations, kept the decision pending for months and then returned the matter to square one by asking the states of Haryana and Uttarakhand to review their consent. The ACC did so claiming the political dispensation in the two states had changed and therefore state governments should review their decision – a reason it had not given in other similar cases. The ACC also turned the proposal for a permanent cadre change in to one of temporary deputation to Uttarakhand without the officer seeking deputation. The officer’s request is mandatory.

It was recorded that the government’s counsel did not defended the decision of the ACC on the merits of the case but said that the NDA government would re-look at the case.  Chaturvedi, a Haryana cadre officer is on deputation to AIIMS and has asked for a permanent cadre change to Uttarakhand. The NDA government removed him from the post of anti corruption officer in AIIMS after J P Nadda (then only a Parliamentarian) wrote asking for suspension of all investigations Chaturvedi was carrying in to corruption in India’s premier public hospital.

When Arvind Kejriwal asked for Chaturvedi to be sent to Delhi on deputation as his officer on special duty, that process to got held up for months. A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court where it was revealed by the CVC that corruption investigations in AIIMS have got stuck in many cases since Nadda took over as health minister. 

Chaturvedi had approached the CAT asking for quashing of ACC’s orders that practically took his change of cadre plea to square one even though all mandatory clearances had been secured. CAT in its order held, “the instances of harassment cited appear to be on extreme side and deserve to be taken serious note of (while deciding conclusively on Chaturvedi’s cadre change).” CAT noted the four Presidential orders rescuing Chaturvedi, CVC’s recommendation to protect the officer, CBI’s recommendation to investigate some of the scams he had blown the lid off, an indictment of several Haryana officials and politicians in corruption and harassment of the officer by a Union government investigations and the hoisting of false criminal and vigilance cases against the officer. 

Asking the ACC to take a final decision in time bound fashion, preferably in two months, it said Chaturvedi was at liberty “to approach the tribunal again in case the order of the competent authority (PM-led ACC) does not match up to his satisfaction and expectations.”