When I first stepped into the services, I was driven with the belief that no compromise should be made on integrity or honesty while doing my duty as a civil servant and that for true democracy to prevail, adhering by the rule of law was the way to forward.
A 2002 batch Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer from the Haryana cadre, Sanjiv Chaturvedi has regularly been in the limelight – for all the ‘wrong’ reasons. Mostly this involved refusing to bend to political pressure and simply doing what he felt was right.
From his very first posting, Chaturvedi ended up locking horns with bigwigs – when he exposed corrupt and illegal activities under his jurisdiction.
“At that time, what was disillusioning and opened my eyes to the true extent of corruption in the system was how my own superiors reprimanded me for doing my job. But my principles were built on a rock-solid foundation,” says Chaturvedi.
It took the officer some time to understand that to take on corruption, one had to hit it at the very top.
“There is no other way. Despite many cases of corruption and officials flouting the law coming to fore, very rarely do any of these see have any punishment ensued by law. We can change that by exposing those in top positions. I’ve investigated many cases at lower levels but until we bravely challenge the system, things will not change,” he says.
But Chaturvedi warns that he has paid a hefty price throughout his 16-year career for this mentality.
For instance, in 2007 the officer discovered that several crore in public funds was being spent on private land of a well-connected local. The money and land were originally slated for a herbal park establishment project in Fatehabad, Haryana.
A quick suspension (directly mooted by the CM’s office, Chaturvedi says) was followed by a chargesheet filed against him by the Haryana state government kept the officer’s promotions blocked for three long years.
Ultimately, a presidential intervention came in Chaturvedi’s favour – but not before six months had passed.
There have been a total of four occasions when Chaturvedi’s suspension has been revoked by presidential intervention—a rare feat for any civil servant across the country. The officer says each suspension came shortly after he exposed multi-crore scams in the state.
Here are the cases:
1. The Haryana Forestry Scam mentioned above (By President Pratibha Patil, 2008)
2. THe Sanjiv Tomar Suicide-Abetment Case (By President Pratibha Patil, 2010)
3. A chargesheet filed by the Haryana State (By President Pranab Mukherjee, 2011)
4. A ‘Zero’ Rated Appraisal Report by Haryana State (By President Pranab Mukherjee, 2013)
There have been many cases and quite a number of charge sheets involving the officer – a full list of which has its own Wikipedia page. However, despite repeated allegations by various parties and investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation, he has emerged with a clean chit every time.
Interestingly, the officer was given a ‘zero’ grading in his Annual Performance Report (APAR) by the Union Health Ministry for the financial year 2015-16—the very same year he was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for emergent leadership.
According to a report by The Times of India, Chaturvedi was recognised for “his exemplary integrity, courage and tenacity in uncompromisingly exposing and painstakingly investigating corruption in public office, and his resolute crafting of program and system improvements to ensure that government honourably serves the people of India.”
“It has been a tough journey. I’ve faced dismissals, suspensions, transfers and all kinds of harassment that you can possibly imagine. There are 15 court cases pending against me, including in both High Court and Supreme Court. For two years, I lived through utter humiliation on no deputation or work in Delhi. What keeps me going? An inner motivation that I’ve stayed true to my principles,” shares Chaturvedi.
He also credits the support of his subordinates that has kept him motivated through dark times.
“It has been my fundamental policy that no matter how deep I get into muddled waters, my subordinates should never pay the price for it. Throughout my career, I’ve ensured I have safeguarded my subordinates. Perhaps this has encouraged them to support me when the world had turned against me or maybe it was their integrity. Either way, this unfaltering support has played a significant role in me never losing sight of my endeavours,” Chaturvedi says.
One aspect of the job that Chaturvedi particularly highlights as a huge negative is the relentless lobbying for select postings in the service.
“I personally feel that is the biggest source of degradation. Whether you have sent on a punishment posting or one that requires your utmost potential, give it your best. Every transfer is part of your career and as a servant of your nation, it is your duty to do it with utmost commitment and professionalism,” he adds.
The diligent officer also sheds light upon the importance of Articles 308 to 323 of the Constitution (legal protection for civil servants), especially for those who do not fear political or bureaucratic hooliganism in their fight against corruption.
“Whenever I get a chance to speak to the fresh blood, newly inducted to the services, I always focus on broaching this subject and why it is imperative to uphold the trust our makers of the constitution had bestowed upon the civil servants of this country while instating this law, through our work. Most of them are not much aware how powerful this law can be and of its significance that has come to the rescue of honest and incorruptible officers time and again,” Chaturvedi adds.
On a parting note, the officer has one message for those aspiring for the services as well as ones already serving.
“The path isn’t a cakewalk and there would be instances where giving in to pressure would seem the only way out. But if you remain true to your principles, things like suspension orders, dismissals and harassments would amount to nothing.
These things cannot break your spirit if your intentions are truly governed with best interests for the country. At the end of the day, it is your conscience that you have to live with,” he concludes.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)