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Library punishes, Delhi pardons - Clean chit for indicted CPM-linked official raises hackles

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  • Published 23.04.08

The Union culture ministry has revoked the penalty of an official of the National Library who was caught smuggling out photocopies of rare books and periodicals in December 2005.

Outraged by the ministry’s decision to exonerate Ashok Kumar Nath, an assistant library and information officer (microphotography), National Library authorities are questioning how the decision of the institution’s disciplinary authority could thus be overruled.

Dark hints are being dropped that Nath has got away because he belongs to the CPM-backed National Library Employees’ Association.

R. Ramachandran, the director-in-charge and principal library and information officer of the library, said: “It is strange that the ministry wants to revoke the charges against him. This has never happened in the history of the National Library.” Ramachandran was the inquiring officer in the case in which the charges against Nath were proved. He was penalised by the then director, Sudhendu Mondal.

R. Vaidyanathan, the under-secretary in the culture ministry, who wrote a letter dated March 25 to the library dismissing the case against Nath, refused to give an explanation.

“This is not a public interest matter and such things cannot be discussed over the phone. I cannot remember the specific case you are referring to as I have so many files relating to disciplinary action,” he said from Delhi.

The letter says: “The appellate authority after taking into account the various submissions made in the appeal and the records of the case, including the charges levelled against Nath, has come to the conclusion that no blame attaches to the official and it is in the interest of justice to set aside the penalty imposed on him vide office order no. 1159 of 2006-2007.”

Nath was caught leaving the premises with photocopies of valuable documents by the library’s guards. Initially, the authorities hushed up the incident but later Mondal ordered a probe and Nath was asked to submit an explanation.

After finding Nath guilty in an inquiry, Mondal ordered on March 1, 2007, that his pay be reduced in four stages from Rs 8,900 to Rs 8,100 over four years with effect from that date.

“Nath will not earn increments of pay during the period of such reduction and that on the expiry of this period, the reduction will have the effect of postponing his future increments of pay,” the order said.

Ramachandran wrote to the culture ministry on January 28, pointing out that the disciplinary authority’s finding was a judicial decision that could not be tampered with. “It is strange that they have revoked his penalty,” he said.

An official said Nath might have used his political clout to get his penalty overturned. “The ministry might have acted under pressure.”