A government official in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh has been suspended after reportedly removing 21 lakh (2.1 million) litres of water from a reservoir to recover his expensive smartphone.
Rajesh Vishwas, a food officer posted at Pakhanjur town in Kanker district, dropped his Samsung S23 Ultra worth Rs 95,000 ($1160) was suspended for misconduct.
Vishwas Said He Had Oral Permission from Superior to Drain Reservoir
Vishwas had gone for a picnic with friends to Paralkot reservoir on May 21, when he dropped his phone into the 10-foot-deep reservoir while taking a selfie.
A government servant for the past nine years, Vishwas told The Indian Express, “Since I am a local, some villagers who know swimming dove in to find my phone. They looked for it for two days. When they failed to locate it by Tuesday, they suggested draining the water by a few feet. I said the phone would be damaged by now, but the locals, who share a good rapport with me, insisted that they would find it for me.”
Stating that he had bought the phone just two months ago and was extremely upset since he dropped it into the reservoir, Vishwas added, “I called up the sub divisional officer (SDO) of Water Resources Department (RC Dhivar), who gave oral permission as it was just a few feet of water. On Tuesday night, I hired a diesel pump for Rs 7,500 and drained around three feet of water from the reservoir over a period of two days.”
After learning about the incident, the Office of Superintendent Engineer has ordered that the cost for water wasted should be deducted from the salary of SDO RK Dhivar, the official who allegedly gave Vishwas the verbal permission.
The phone, which was found in a damaged condition, was located and handed over to Vishwas. To a question on how much water was drained in total from the reservoir, which collects excess run-off from the dam, he said, “I don’t know. You can ask the villagers.”
Accusing the media of “exaggerating”, he added, “The water in the reservoir is only used by picnickers for bathing and not for irrigation or any similar purpose.” However, the Kanker Collector said the water could have been used by villagers and animals in this extreme heat. She added that no official can take such action on their own without prior permission.
Vishwas ‘Misused of Position’ to Drain Water in The ‘Scorching Summer’
The suspension order stated, “Vishwas misused his position to look for his mobile phone and without seeking permission from the competent officer evacuated water to the tune of lakhs of litre in this scorching summer season which is unacceptable. For the aforementioned act, he has been placed under suspension with immediate effect.”
A show cause notice has also been served to the SDO by the Collector. Giving verbal permission to release water without seeking permission from senior officials falls under the category of misconduct, it said. The SDO has been asked to furnish a reply within a day or face disciplinary action, it added. It is learnt that a letter has been sent to the state Secretary of the Water Resources Department (WRD) to initiate action against the SDO and Vishwas by making them pay for the water wasted by them.
A senior official from the food department told the outlet that Vishwas was previously suspended in 2021 for alleged misconduct in distribution of rice. He was later reinstated by the Collector following an inquiry.