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Sanjiv Chaturvedi has persisted with his investigation into corruption despite harassment in the form of false allegations and repeated transfers. Photo: Hindustan Times
Sanjiv Chaturvedi has persisted with his investigation into corruption despite harassment in the form of false allegations and repeated transfers. Photo: Hindustan Times

Harassment, transfers didn’t faze whistleblower Sanjiv Chaturvedi

Chaturvedi has been awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for emergent leadership

New Delhi: Every Saturday evening, Sanjiv Chaturvedi, deputy director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), keeps a date with the movies. A diehard Bollywood buff, he watches every film that releases and has an opinion on each. “Through every complaint, every warrant, every FIR (first information report), I have kept my date with the movies. That never changes," says the 40-year-old officer who was commissioned in the Indian Forest Service in 2002.

Nor does his steadfastness in the fight against corruption. His resolve didn’t waver during his stint in Haryana, and it didn’t during the two tumultuous years spent as chief vigilance officer in AIIMS from 2012 to 2014. On Wednesday, his efforts were recognized and he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for emergent leadership for “his exemplary integrity, courage and tenacity in…painstakingly investigating corruption in public office".

Painstaking is the word: Chaturvedi has persisted with his investigation into corruption despite harassment in the form of false allegations and repeated transfers. In Haryana, he was transferred 12 times during his five-year tenure. Chaturvedi shares his award with Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj. The Ramon Magsaysay Award is named after former Philippine president Ramon Magsaysay and aims to recognize integrity in governance and courageous service.

“Honours are never expected. This is such a prestigious award and it signifies that if you are on the right path, then your actions are vindicated," says Chaturvedi. The door bell of his C-2 flat (a type of government accommodation) on the AIIMS campus hasn’t stopped buzzing since morning. His phone has been ringing off the hook. “A lot of my colleagues and friends from the service have been calling. The award serves as encouragement to them also to keep fighting the corruption in the system."

In Haryana, Chaturvedi unearthed several scams, from the destruction of the Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary to spending of public funds on private land owned by a member of the legislative assembly. His work as chief vigilance officer at AIIMS saw him initiate action on several grounds ranging from supply of dubious medicines to irregular appointment of consultants to tenders awarded on the basis of fake documents. Not surprisingly, two years into the post, he was removed. It is believed that Chaturvedi ran afoul of powerful Bharatiya Janata Party politician J.P. Nadda, currently the health minister. After Chaturvedi’s dismissal, the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) reportedly discussed the issue with then health minister Harsh Vardhan and sought a report.

“But nothing came out of it. I have been very disappointed with the PMO’s office," says Chaturvedi. “I firmly believe in zero tolerance against corruption and I took a lot of heart from the PM’s slogan, na khaonga, na khane doonga (Neither will I be corrupt, nor let anyone else be corrupt), but I have been very disappointed. After my removal from the post of CVO (chief vigilance officer), I submitted document upon document; I requested for an impartial probe; instead I got harassment."

“My promotion was stopped, my annual confidential report spoilt, and then my own ministry issued a defamatory press release against me," he said.

In the first week of July, he moved the Central Administrative Tribunal accusing the Haryana government of denying him his promotion. “I was first overlooked in January. Then it happened again and I was forced to approach the tribunal." A decision was taken in his favour on 23 July. “When you harass one officer, you are not sending a message to just him but the entire service," he says.

Have his run-ins with the Indian political class left him disillusioned? No, says Chaturvedi. “You have to understand the pitfalls of the system, apply your mind to the different attempts being made to implicate you, and then find creative solutions. I have been suspended, been kept out of work for a year, a serious motion to discharge me has been brought against me…none of this has affected me." He has studied the laws and constitutional provisions regarding civil servants and used the knowledge to fight the Haryana government. “Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel said at the time of independence that the country will remain united only of the civil servants have the freedom to speak their mind and a sense of security. These two aspects are lacking today."

Chaturvedi comes from a family of freedom fighters and credits his grandfather Ramakant Tiwari for his integrity and determination. He refuses to lose hope and believes the roots of Indian democracy run deep. “There are still people who care enough. This year alone I have been involved in four cases and none of the lawyers who fought the cases took a single paisa from me." He counts Indian Administrative Service officer Ashok Khemka, who has faced immense harassment owing to his investigation into suspicious land deals involving politicians, as one of his closest friends.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has sought the deputation of Chaturvedi to his government as an anti-graft officer, but the nod for this has yet to come from the Union government. “I have been given a position, but there is no work. There are state governments that want me, yet nothing is happening. If the government is not promoting honest people, then what is the message you are sending out? You shouldn’t say one thing and act another way."

Kejriwal won the Magsaysay award in 2006.

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