[ Amar Sangno ]
ITANAGAR, Apr 11: With the entire nation in the grip of fear and uncertainty because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the people’s attention has shifted from the Arunachal Pradesh Staff Selection Board’s (APSSB) cash-for-job scam – which until recently was a household topic – to the global crisis.
Shaken by the scam that tarnished the image of Chief Minister Pema Khandu’s pet project which was aimed at reforming job recruitment in the state, the state government suspended the then APSSB undersecretary Kapter Ringu, and followed it up by suspending the then secretary-cum-examination controller, SK Jain, on 3 March.
On the same day, the CM constituted a high-level inquiry committee, comprising two senior IAS officers – Principal Resident Commissioner (New Delhi) Jitendra Narain and Home Commissioner Kaling Tayeng – to inquire into the alleged malpractices in the LDC/JSA examination conducted by the board on 2 February.
The committee was asked to submit its report within 21 days, and it did so on 24 March.
Unverified sources informed The Arunachal Times that the committee strongly recommended service termination of Ringu for her role in the malpractice, disciplinary action against Jain for gross negligence and procedural lapses, and disciplinary action against the then APSSB chairman Ashish Chandra Verma for procedural lapses.
However, Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar refused to make the inquiry report public, saying “the report is confidential and cannot be disclosed now.”
Reportedly, no action has been initiated by the personnel department even 17 days after the inquiry committee had submitted its report. Delaying initiating action against the officers named by the committee may offer them legal insulation and protect them from action by the disciplinary authority.
However, Personnel Secretary Juhi Mukherjee denied the allegation, stating that action is underway against those implicated in the report.
“The show cause notice will be prepared by Monday,” Mukherjee said.
Interestingly, The Arunachal Times found out that a week after the inquiry committee had been constituted, the chief secretary issued a corrigendum on 13 March, making partial modification to the government’s suspension order (No PERS 14/2020/278, dated 3 March, 2020), stating that “the designation of SK Jain mentioned as secretary-cum-controller examination APSSB in aforesaid order may be read as ‘secretary Arunachal Pradesh Staff Selection Board’.”
The corrigendum stated that it was “by order and in the name of the governor of Arunachal Pradesh.”
What prompted the chief secretary to issue a corrigendum after the inquiry committee had been constituted – that, too, stressing on the designation of Jain, who was already under suspension? Was it an attempt to protect Jain from any implication during inquiry?
Sources informed The Arunachal Times that the chief secretary’s corrigendum did not go down well with the governor and the chief minister as it had been issued without seeking the consent of the chief minister’s office (CMO) and unnecessarily dragged the Raj Bhavan into the fiasco.
The CS had to withdraw and cancel the corrigendum on 19 March.
Kumar denied that there was any resentment over his corrigendum at either the Raj Bhavan or the CMO, and passed the buck to Mukherjee.
“There was a possibility that, because his original posting order did not mention the charge of controller of examination, he might get relief from the court or from the central service tribunal. That is why the corrigendum was issued,” said Mukherjee.
Denying that the corrigendum had been issued to protect Jain and the other officers implicated in the inquiry committee’s report, she said that “after further examination by the administrative reforms department, it was found that the post itself was created as secretary-cum-controller of examination.
“That means whenever we post somebody as secretary (APSSB), the role of controller of examination is inherent. That’s why the corrigendum was withdrawn to reflect the correct position. And we are certain that the correct position as above will stand legal scrutiny too,” Mukherjee added.
On 5 March, the personnel secretary forwarded the suspension order against Jain to the ministry of home affairs (MHA), informing about “gross administrative negligence on the part of officers responsible for conduct of examination.”
In her letter, Mukherjee also mentioned that the controller of examination was responsible for safe custody of the examination materials before and after the examination.
Normally, once an inquiry committee has recommended dismissal from service against any officer, the competent authority (personnel department) has to immediately frame a charge-sheet and serve it to the officer in question under Article 311 of the Indian constitution and appropriate sections of the All India Service (Discipline and Appeal) Rule, 1969.
The accused officer will be given reasonable opportunity – normally one week – to respond. On failing to submit a convincing response, in the case of a state civil servant, the government can directly dismiss and terminate their service based on direct evidence of corruption and personal integrity.
However, for an IAS officer, the personnel department has to recommend disciplinary action to the MHA, after approval by the vigilance minister (chief minister). The MHA will write to the personnel ministry, which is the disciplinary authority for civil servants at the Centre.
Until the charge is proven, the suspension of the erring officer can be continued, or they may be reinstated. However, in case of reinstatement, it should be in a non-sensitive post.
It is learnt that in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, the central government on 31 March gave relaxation to all activities/events relating to procedures under the All India Service (Discipline and Appeal) Rule, 1969. This means that the suspension order against Ringu and Jain, which was supposed to end by 3 April, will be extended automatically.
[ Amar Sangno ]