Updated: June 1, 2021 2:13:02 am
Amidst the tug of war between the Centre and West Bengal government over Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay being summoned to Delhi, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced that Bandyopadhyay had retired from service on Monday after declining the three-month extension given to him, and had been appointed Chief Adviser to the Chief Minister.
Bandyopadhyay, who did not report to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) after the state government refused to relieve him, spent his last day as an IAS officer at the Secretariat in Kolkata, where he attended the Chief Minister’s meeting to review the Covid-19 situation and post-Cyclone Yaas relief works.
The Centre sent a second letter to Bandyopadhyay on Monday, asking him to report to North Block on Tuesday. The second letter came hours after Banerjee wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to assert that her government would not release Bandyopadhyay for central deputation.
Late on Monday night, the Centre served a showcause notice on Bandyopadhyay for failing to appear in Delhi as required by the DoPT, the cadre-controlling authority for the IAS, sources said.
The DoPT had written to the West Bengal government on Friday, saying the “Appointments Committee of the Cabinet has approved the placement of…(Bandyopadhyay’s) services with the Government of India”, and that the state government should “relieve the officer with immediate effect and direct him to report to the DoPT…by 10 am on May 31”.
At a news conference in Nabanna, the state secretariat, Chief Minister Banerjee recounted the sequence of events leading up to Monday’s extraordinary flashpoint.
“In our letter on May 12, the purpose of extension of his (Bandyopadhyay’s) service for the state government was for management of the Covid-19… The Centre’s letter (of May 28) did not mention the reason (for calling Bandyopadhyay to Delhi). Today, I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to withdraw the order and reconsider the decision,” the Chief Minister said.
“But today”, she said, “the Centre has sent another letter to Alapan Bandyopadhyay, asking him to report to North Block tomorrow (Tuesday). However, Alapan Bandyopadhyay has retired, as I did not allow him to leave our Secretariat.”
The Chief Minister underlined that Bandyopadhyay had retired before the second letter from the Centre arrived. “The Centre has asked him to join North Block on Tuesday but it cannot force an officer to join it without the permission of the state government. Besides he had already retired before the arrival of the second letter. I allowed him to retire,” she said.
Bandyopadhyay has been succeeded as chief secretary by Home Secretary H K Dwivedi, a West Bengal-cadre officer of the 1988 batch, the Chief Minister said. B P Gopalika, an IAS officer of the 1989 batch, will be the new home secretary.
The Chief Minister described Bandyopadhyay as a “bright officer”. “Today is his retirement day. It is his desire (to retire). He can take a decision. I think he has the guts and he has the boldness. I have allowed him to be Chief Adviser to Chief Minister. He will start work from tomorrow. I have already ordered (that the post be created),” she said.
Bandyopadhyay, Banerjee said, would draw a salary of Rs 2.5 lakh per month plus benefits, and have a three-year tenure.
The ongoing tussle between the Centre and the state government escalated dramatically after Banerjee, accompanied by Bandyopadhyay, skipped a review meeting on Cyclone Yaas called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 28. Hours later, the Centre recalled Bandyopadhyay to New Delhi.
The order came only days after the Centre had, on May 24, approved a proposal by the state to extend Bandyopadhyay’s tenure by three months until August 31. Before the extension was granted, Bandyopadhyay was scheduled to retire on May 31.
At Monday’s press conference, Banerjee slammed Prime Minister Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah for their alleged vendetta politics and “cruelty”. She called the Centre’s moves “illegal and unconstitutional”, and described Modi as “Mr Mann Ki Baat Prime Minister”.
“This is a great blunder of the central government. They want to bulldoze the state government totally. They want to play political vendetta. Who has taken the decision (to issue these orders)? This is illegal and unconstitutional. What do you want, Mr Busy Prime Minister? Mr Mann Ki Baat Prime Minister? You want to finish me? Can you do it? Never and ever. Till people give me support, you cannot. I will appeal to all the state governments, Opposition state governments and senior leaders of this country, that please be together and fight the battle. It is not the battle of Alapan Bandyopadhyay. This is a battle for all the bureaucracy. I cannot accept this,” Banerjee said.
In her letter sent to Modi earlier in the day, Banerjee said: “I must confess that I have been shocked and stunned by the unilateral order dated 28th May, 2021 sent to us by the Government of India, asking us to release Sri Alapan Bandyopadhyay…so that he may join the Government of India on 31st May, 2021, the normal date of his-superannuation. The unilateral ‘order’ comes without any prior consultation whatsoever with the Government of West Bengal, without any volition/option of the officer, without meeting any of the pre- conditions of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules, 1954, and other applicable laws under reference. The unilateral order/directive is legally untenable, historically unprecedented and wholly unconstitutional.”
She added in the letter: “Respected Sir, I therefore humbly request you to withdraw, recall, reconsider your decision and rescind the latest so-called order in larger public interest. The Government of West Bengal cannot release, and is not releasing, its Chief Secretary at this critical hour, on the basis of our understanding that earlier order of extension, issued after lawful consultation in accordance with applicable laws, remains operational and valid. The latest order is also clearly in violation of applicable laws and against public interest: it is in any case ab initio void.”
At the press conference, Banerjee said, “I have never seen such a heartless and cruel Prime Minister and Home Minister. Just because they want to attack the Chief Minister, they are attacking the Chief Secretary. You have added insult to injury. There is no consultation. Why? Because you lost (the Assembly elections)? Because you don’t like Mamata Banerjee…”
The Chief Minister accused Modi of treating bureaucrats like bonded labourers. “If a bureaucrat is insulted after he has dedicated his life to his work, what message is the government and PM sending out? There are many Bengal-cadre officers at the Centre. Can I recall them without consultation?” she asked.
With ENS, New Delhi
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