The Indian government has ordered the transfer of a bureaucrat couple to opposite ends of the country following outrage over a media report alleging they forced a sports stadium in the capital to shut early in order to walk their dog.
India’s home ministry on Thursday transferred Sanjeev Khirwar, a top bureaucrat in the Delhi city state government, to Ladakh in Indian-administered Kashmir, while his wife Rinku Dugga, a secretary in the Delhi government, was sent to Arunachal Pradesh state in the distant northeast, according to an official order.
Located at the eastern and western ends of the Himalayan mountain range, the new postings of the bureaucrat couple are some 3,200km (2,000 miles) apart – a 65-hour drive according to Google Maps.
Such transfers of bureaucrats in India often follow allegations of misconduct against them and are seen as “punishment postings”.
The ministry’s order came after a social media furore triggered by a report by The Indian Express newspaper, saying that athletes and coaches at the Thyagraj Stadium in the Indian capital – built for the 2010 Commonwealth Games – had to clear out by early evening so Khirwar could walk his dog.
The Indian Express report carried a photograph of Khirwar and Dugga walking their dog on the stadium track.
The Indian Express visited the #ThyagrajStadium on three evenings over the past seven days and saw the stadium guards walking towards the track at around 6.30 pm, blowing whistles and ensuring that the arena was cleared by 7 pm.
— Express Sports (@IExpressSports) May 26, 2022
The newspaper quoted Khirwar as saying he “sometimes” took his pet for a walk at the stadium, but denied that it disrupted the practice routine of athletes.
“I would never ask an athlete to leave the stadium that belongs to them,” the paper quoted him as saying. “Even if I visit, I go after the stadium is supposed to close.”
Delhi’s deputy chief minister on Thursday said authorities had ordered all sports facilities in the city to remain open for athletes’ use until 10pm.
The government spent several billion dollars on new facilities for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which remains the biggest sporting event that India has hosted. The games also made headlines for allegations of corruption against sports ministry officials.
Most of the games’ venues are still in operation – some occasionally used for other events such as political rallies or concerts – and the government spends large sums on their upkeep.
The Indian Express report triggered strong reactions from political leaders and social media users.
“What is this bizarre misuse of power where athletes are forced to wrap up their training early because a Govt officer has to walk his dog. Pathetic!”, Gaurav Pandhi, a member of the main opposition Congress party, said on Twitter.
The internet wags were quick to point out that the couple’s new assignments are both renowned for their natural beauty and offer ample dog-walking opportunities. Many also wondered where the dog was going.
“On the brighter side – wherever the dog goes – Ladakh or Arunachal – it’ll have plenty of space to move around and walk … without having to shut down a stadium,” said a tweet.