A couple of former top bureaucrat have without mincing words described the Narendra Modi Government’s action against the West Bengal chief secretary, a day before he was to retire, Mr Alapan Bandhyopadhyay as “unprecedented, disturbing and a disregard for rules”.
This was done by the Centre to punish Mr Bandhyopadhyay as he accompanied by the state chief minister, Ms Mamta Banerjee arrived 15 minutes late to attend a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi during the course of recent cyclone. She had her own explanation leading to her delayed arrival but the Centre struck without even considering her version.
“This is perhaps the first time in the history of Independent India that a secretary-level officer is being posted in the Centre one day before retirement.
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The order is totally irregular. And to say that a secretary-level officer must report to Delhi by 10 am on a particular day is just unheard of. The joining time is normally six days plus travelling time for all bureaucrats,” observed former Home Secretary, Mr G K Pillai.
The observation of Mr Pillai, a no-nonsense officer with an impeccable record who refused to be on the board of any corporate entity while being in service, he was also the Commerce Secretary, and even post-retirement benefit, is significant in more than one way.
Firstly, it points to the morass resulting out of deadly politico-bureaucratic mix with the former nudging its way unmindful of the rules and covenants and the latter preferring to crawl when asked to bend. Secondly, Mr Pillai himself was in the centre of a pleasant situation under which he was repatriated to his home cadre Kerala while being a popular joint secretary in the Home Ministry.
This episode assumes significance, in relation to the current development, as at that time veteran BJP leader, Mr L K Advani was the home minister and Mr A K Antony of the Congress had just taken over as Kerala chief minister.
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Mr Antony flew all the way from Thiruvananthapuram to personally request Mr Advani for Mr Pillai’s services and to the pleasant surprise of many including media-persons, Mr Advani readily agreed to let go one of his finest officers then in-charge of the disturbed North East.
“How could I have said no when the chief minister personally came and sought my officer’s services. In fact, it was a matter pride for me as Home Minister that the officer’s efficiency has been recognised,” Mr Advani had candidly replied to a question in this question by this writer.
Although the two situations have no comparison but speak volumes about the degradation that has set-in in the functioning of the executive which is one of the profoundest pillars of the democracy. There were problems in its functioning earlier also but the West Bengal episode, coming particularly after the BJP’s defeat in the assembly elections, is a new low as it smacks of a mindset of personal political vendetta in which the state chief secretary ended up becoming a pawn.
Mr Pillai was not alone in expressing his anguish but others of his ilk made a common cause with him to denounce this bizarre situation. Former Cabinet Secretaries, M/s B K Chaturvedi and Mr K M Chandrasekhar, and former secretary DoPT, which is responsible for IAS cadre management and rules, Mr Satyanand Mishra reacted in the same vein.
Mr Bandyopadhyay intriguingly finds himself caught in the crossfire between Mr Modi on one side and his immediate boss Chief Minister on the other as the latter “chose to skip or was late” to a review meeting held by the Prime Minister over cyclone Yaas. Lately, the retiring chief secretary, though immediately appointed an officer on special duty by the state government for three years, has been slammed with a second show cause notice by the Home Ministry under the Disaster Management (DM) Act for arriving 15 minutes late in the Prime Minister’s meeting.
Mr Pillai expressing surprise on the second show cause notice shockingly observed, “in my long career, I did not come across any such precedence. That too for missing a meeting! Both the orders are bizarre. No other words can express it.”
Similar views were expressed by the former DoPT secretary, Mr Mishra who termed the notice as “stupid”. “It would be a violation of the DM Act if an order to attend the meeting was issued under the DM Act”, he felt.
The case of this stand-off between Centre and the West Bengal government with the chief secretary becoming the soft target is a glaring example of the system functioning in a manner where there is scant respect for the laid rules and regulations leave aside the standing of the officer in question. This is a typical example of politics overriding decency,” an ex-bureaucrat said on conditions of anonymity. What do the rules governing deputing an IAS officer on central deputation say?
Provisions for the central deputation require the officer both the officer concerned and the state giving their prior consent. In such cases a consultation is done, and in case the Centre is not satisfied with a particular state’s reasoning for to not relieve the officer, then the Centre can insist.
A specific reading of Rule 6.1 of the IAS (Cadre) Rules, 1954, is: “A cadre officer may, with the concurrence of the state governments concerned and the central government, be deputed for service under the central government or another state government or under a company, association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not, which is wholly or substantially owned or controlled by the central government or by any other state government. Provided that in case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the central government and the state government or state governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the central government.”
Question arises if that meant all together doing away with the consultation process. In the current West Bengal case no such consultation ever took place.
The spirit of the Rule 6.1 was never invoked as the subsequent developments have revealed. That has resulted in raising suspicion about the real intent of either the Centre or the ruling BJP.
The genesis of this crisis lies in the Trinmool Congress chief, Ms Mamta Banerjee standing up to the electoral challenge posed by the powerful combine of Prime Minister Mr Modi and Home Minister, Mr Amit Shah and successfully checkmating the latter’s electoral victory streak. Whatever is the poll outcome, it is the verdict of the people of the state and the BJP should have accepted with a bowed head.
This is the usual culmination of an electoral process. Every political party defeated in elections invariably accepts the verdict with customary, “we honour the people’s verdict and will perform our duties as a strong opposition.” But that does not seem to be the case with the current ruling dispensation.
Where are we destined to go from here? Well, the answer lies only with the people of India.
The author is a veteran journalist from Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir. He has spent most of his professional career in New Delhi.