Himachal reluctant to shift tainted officials from sensitive posts (Himachal Newsletter)

Shimla, Dec 5: The Congress government in Himachal Pradesh is reluctant to shift its elite, yet tainted, officials from sensitive posts in spite of a court order and has instead asked that it be reviewed.

The government itself had identified 43 officials with doubtful integrity and conveyed this through the additional advocate general to the Himachal Pradesh High Court, which had directed they be shifted to non-sensitive posts.

The government has now taken a U-turn. It asked the high court Monday to either recall or modify the order “as non-sensitive posts are not there in all cadres, hence, it may become unavoidable to post some officers in posts which cannot strictly be termed as non-sensitive.”

“The assurance was made by the additional advocate general inadvertently and no such assurance was made in the affidavit filed by him Nov 16, and only the detail of competent authorities, who were consulted while posting such officers in sensitive posts, was given in the said affidavit,” the government has now informed the court in an affidavit.

The high court has kept the issue in abeyance till Friday.

The issue has taken on political overtones with the opposition BJP taking a dig at the government for shielding the tainted officials owing to pressure from this powerful section.

State BJP spokesperson Ganesh Dutt said despite the court’s directive, the state government had suddenly developed cold feet.

“The government should not just remove them from their posts but also make their names public,” he said in a statement.

The development assumes significance as the Delhi High Court Nov 27 took cognisance of a public suit by advocate Prashant Bhushan over Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh allegedly accepting graft when he was steel minister at the centre (2009-11).

It asked the CBI to file a status report By Feb 1 on its investigation into the allegation.

Interestingly, the Himachal Pradesh High Court order on tainted officers came on the 2012 plea of former drug controller Sher Singh demanding a stay on the departmental proceedings against him.

The court later widened the scope of the matter to address the basic issue of tainted officers in sensitive posts.

A division bench consisting of Chief Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice Kuldip Singh Nov 14 directed the chief secretary to file an affidavit listing the names of the tainted officials and their postings.

The officials are those who have been convicted by courts, awarded major penalties in departmental inquiries, against whom proceedings for a major penalty in a departmental inquiry have been started or those who are facing trial.

Earlier, while hearing Sher Singh’s petition, the high court had asked the government to furnish a list of functionaries involved in corruption and moral turpitude over the past 10 years.

A division bench of then Chief Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice D.C. Chaudhary observed Sep 14, 2012, that since November 2011 the court had been directing the principal secretary (home) to furnish information regarding officials involved in corruption cases.

But the principal secretary had informed the court through an affidavit May 9, 2012, that this would take a lot of time as the information is to be consolidated by the administrative secretaries concerned after receiving it from departments, boards and corporations under their control.

The court observed “from November 2011 to May 2012 would have been sufficient enough time to call for the information and supply it to the court”.

“The court wonders what they have been doing for six months. Being a home secretary, a major part of the information could have been easily got available from police headquarters. There is no point in waiting for the report any further from the secretary (home). Therefore, the court directs the chief secretary to furnish the information within six weeks,” the judges had observed.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)