THE STORY OF ASHOK KHEMKA
I went to St. Xavier’s school in Kolkata. It was one of the best schools in the city, and produced great personalities like Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Jagdish Chandra Bose and many other great names. Our school used to take students from all strata of society on the basis of merit. We had very good teaching facility, which inculcated good values in students.
I had a very middle class background. My father was an accountant in a jute company. I learnt the value of discipline in life from him. I went to IIT Kharagpur after school and passed out from there in 1998. I wanted a job, preferably academic. However, I learnt that in our country to get a good academic job one has to have the right kind of contacts, which I never had. So I decided to go for civil services and cleared the exam. Thereafter I went to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Mumbai (TIFR), for research in computer science. Two of my papers were published in international journals.
My real touch with the administrative world started after this. The recent DLF land deal case has been highlighted by the media and there is sort of hype created around it. However, I have been transferred 40 times in 21 years of my job. I think barring around 10 times, rest of the times I have been transferred on extraneous grounds.
People ask me how I cope with the pressure of dealing with the cases relating to the high and mighty. I would not say I don’t feel afraid. Sometimes I am scared, but then I find the courage from within to fight and stand for truth. For me courage is life and fear is death. I have struggled in my job and you can only keep struggling if you like struggling.
It is believed that the recent DLF land case was the biggest challenge of my life as a civil servant. However, I have had several cases where I have stood for the right cause and law in the past.
My toughest period was in 1994 when I was SDM Tohana in Haryana. I was asked by the Bhajan Lal government to provide 200 trucks from the local truck union for ferrying people to the rally in Delhi, on completion of three years of the P.V. Narasimha Rao government. I refused to obey the order as there was no provision under law for trucks. I was transferred as undersecretary to Chandigarh. At that time my wife was seven months pregnant with my first son. It was a very testing time for me and my wife.
My two sons also suffered due to my frequent transfers, as they have had to change schools. Even this house which has been allotted to me recently has been newly constructed and some work is still pending. I have hired a private plumber and electrician to make it liveable. My wife is also trying to make it livable, but she never complains.
The frequent transfers, apart from disturbing your personal life, also affect your work. The officer should get at least two to three years in one posting for optimum results. All the hard work put in by a person comes to naught; it is like a loss of a child. This is the reason I went to the court regarding my transfer.
There is a Veerappa Moily report, which recommends a minimum tenure for officers. Thirteen state governments of the country have agreed to implement it. I was trying to remind the government about the law. I try to do whatever is in my capacity.
Like when I was working at the Haryana Electronic Corporation I allotted plots through a very fair practice of interviews, unlike discreet methods of allotting such plots. This method could have been followed in other departments, but vested interests desist from implementing transparent and fair methods in allotments.
Despite my struggle my family is proud of me. My wife never complains about my frequent transfers. She has always stood by me, perhaps that is the reason why I am able to take a stand on the right issues.
I strongly believe that my purpose for joining the services was to make a difference to society through my work. I went to Stanford University during my B.Tech days on an exchange programme. I would not be lying if I say that I was not enamoured by the life in America. But life for me in America was too materialistic, and purposeless.
I live a Spartan life; there is not much place for money in it. I don’t eat out and only like simple home-cooked food. My expenses are limited so I am happy within my means.
Even now some people ask me to join the private sector and earn more money and have a better lifestyle. However, money never attracted me, it is the quest for truth and standing for the right cause which give me self-confidence and resilience to bear all the hardships in the process.
I have two sons — one is going on 18 and studying in Hyderabad, and other is 16 and studying in Chandigarh. At times I fear for their well-being. However, I get my strength from reading books and spirituality. Ultimately, what has to happen will happen and there is no point in getting perturbed over it.