Former West Bengal chief secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay on Thursday replied to the Centre’s notice issued to him for skipping Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s May 28 meeting on Cyclone Yaas. The notice has divided opinion on whether the Centre could have sent it. Some believe it did the right thing by seeking an explanation while others argue the Centre could not have issued the notice since Bandopadhyay was part of the state administration.
What has happened so far
The Centre on May 24 granted Bandopadhyay, a 1987 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, a three-month extension after the West Bengal government sought it saying his services were required to combat Covid. Days later, chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Bandopadhyay arrived at the venue of Modi’s meeting. But they left within minutes after giving a representation to the Prime Minister and without attending it and triggered a political row. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and Union ministers accused Banerjee of insulting Modi.
The same evening the Centre asked Bandopadhyay to report for New Delhi by 10 am on May 31, his last working day, while directing the state government to release him immediately.
Banerjee wrote a five-page letter to Modi urging him to withdraw the transfer order while refusing to release Bandopadhyay. She said she allowed Bandopadhyay to retire on his request and appointed him as her chief adviser for three months.
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“I am shocked and stunned by the unilateral order…,” wrote Banerjee. She added it would be very unfortunate if there is a correlation between the Centre’s decision to recall the bureaucrat to Delhi and Modi’s meeting. Banerjee said she had reservations about the presence of Suvendu Adhikari, who defected from her Trinamool Congress (TMC) to BJP and defeated her in assembly polls, and governor Jagdeep Dhankhar at the meeting. “….an individual MLA [Adhikari], having no locus attending the meeting was unacceptable,” said Banerjee.
She later hit out at Modi and Amit Shah saying she has never seen such a heartless Prime Minister and Union home minister. “I wrote the letter to the Prime Minister, but the reply came to him [Bandopadhyay] and not me. The Centre did not even mention why it needs him. You [Centre] have added insult to injury. I see only political vendetta. Why? Is it because you do not like Mamata Banerjee? Is it because you lost the elections?” asked Banerjee. She added she was made to wait at the meeting venue before she could meet Modi.
The Centre on June 1 sent the show cause letter to Bandopadhyay, accusing him of violating Section 51 (b) of the Disaster Management Act by skipping Modi’s meeting and failing to make a presentation on Cyclone Yaas and relief work. He was asked to reply within three days. Banerjee a day later said the state government will stand by Bandopadhyay and added “the chapter is over”.
Bandopadhyay’s transfer and the Centre’s view
The Centre has said the Department of personnel and training (DoPT) is the cadre controlling authority of IAS and has the right to transfer an official from the state to the Centre. Normally, it is done in consultation with the state governments and also depends on the willingness of an officer to join the Central government. The Centre has argued the state government was obliged to relieve Bandopadhyay. It has pointed out the Centre granted him a three-month extension as well.
West Bengal government view
It has argued an official can be transferred in consultations with the state government. In the case of Bandopadhyay, the state government was not consulted before his transfer order.
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The state government has called the transfer hours after Banerjee skipped the meeting with Modi as a vindictive action. It has argued the extension in service was granted for Covid work and hence Bandopadhyay could not have been transferred to the Centre.
Show cause notice and Centre’s view
It has argued Bandopadhyay as the chief secretary, an all-India services officer, could not have ignored his Constitutional duties. The Centre has said no presentation was given to Modi and Bandopadhyay left the meeting without giving any reason for it. It has said seeking his explanation was within the civil service rules. The Centre has argued as the cyclone is a disaster, it can invoke its powers under the Disaster Management Act and issue directions to state government officials. It said skipping the meeting to review disaster relief amounted to a violation of the law and therefore the notice was issued under its Section 51 (b). The Section provides for jail of up to one year for failing to comply with orders issued under the law.
West Bengal government view
It has said the show cause was issued after Bandopadhyay’s retirement and therefore it has no legal value. The state government has argued the notice to attend the meeting was not issued under the Disaster Management Act and therefore, the notice under it cannot be issued. It said the show cause was an afterthought after Banerjee named Bandopadhyay as her chief adviser. The state government has said his transfer order had become null and void and the notice was issued to harass him.
“This is a vindictive action by the BJP which cannot get over its humiliating loss in the recent polls. This will go down in the history of dirty politics. A bureaucrat is being recalled before his retirement when he is touring cyclone-hit areas. This proves how anti-Bengal and anti-Bengali BJP’s central leaders are,” said Trinamool Congress spokesman Kunal Ghosh.