TWO MONTHS after a Jharkhand forest range officer filed a public interest litigation, seeking the High Court’s intervention in getting dues worth Rs 10 lakh released for labourers, the state government has issued a showcause notice to him asking why he should not be given compulsory retirement for going against the government. The officer has been given one month to respond.
The matter dates back to December last year, when several labourers held a protest outside the Pakur Division Forest Office demanding due wages. Around 250 labourers, who were employed for upkeep of a forest in the Pakur Forest Division, had not been paid wages for over nine months despite bringing the matter to the attention of the authorities several times. Their hopes hinged on the PIL filed by Pakur Forest Ranger Anil Kumar Singh, who sought the High Court’s intervention into the matter.
According to Singh’s plea, the payments were stuck as the Divisional Forest Officer’s post had remained vacant in the Pakur Forest Division. The petition said Singh was “compelled to give advances” to the labourers, which was creating “great hardships” for both him and the labourers. After The Indian Express reported the matter, a Divisional Forest Officer was transferred to Pakur after which the payments were made.
On February 17, Singh received the January 29 showcause notice signed by Under Secretary Santosh Kumar Chaubey. Singh said he has time till March 17 to respond.
The notice quoted findings of a departmental inquiry against Singh, and cites the PIL as well as his conduct at work. “A team looked into his earlier activities where, being a government servant, he had filed a petition in the court against the government and its work, and also into indiscipline while doing his duty,” it said.
It then quoted the findings of the inquiry, stating that despite Singh being punished in two previous instances, there is no difference in his conduct. “In this scenario, in public interest, it puts a question mark on his continuity in the job… In this scenario, it can be thought about giving him compulsory retirement,” the notice quoted the inquiry team.
Singh told The Indian Express that his filing of PIL for the labourers was in “public interest”. “The notice says it can be thought of giving me compulsory retirement in public interest, but what I did for the cause of the labourers was in public interest,” he said.
On the previous instances, as cited in the notice, Singh said: “In the first case, a false allegation was levelled against me as I refused to give commission to my superiors. The allegation was that I filled fake vouchers of around Rs 2.41 lakh. The man who filled those vouchers was not touched, but I was punished. In the second instance, I was hauled up for not following biometric attendance when I am on field. My superiors who were inquiring the matter too did not have biometric attendance. I was punished on both accounts and I had gone to court,” he said.
When asked, a Secretary in the Forest Department, who did not want to be named, said: “Singh is a habitual trouble maker. He cannot and should not go to court for any issue, howsoever, good the cause may be. As a government employee, he has to follow service conduct rules.”
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