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Monday, June 14, 2021

Centre vs Bengal: ‘Chief Secy slighted PM, President; undermined federal structure’

While a section argue that the Centre over-reached, other bureaucrats say that Bandopadhyay, by not being present to brief the Prime Minister at the cyclone review meeting on May 28, transgressed professional lines.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: June 3, 2021 7:14:05 am
Alapan Bandyopadhyay at the state secretariat on Monday. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

The stand-off between the Centre and West Bengal government over Alapan Bandopadhyay, the just-retired West Bengal Chief Secretary who has been issued a notice under the Disaster Management Act, has split the bureaucracy down the middle.

While a section argue that the Centre over-reached, other bureaucrats say that Bandopadhyay, by not being present to brief the Prime Minister at the cyclone review meeting on May 28, transgressed professional lines.

“He (Bandopadhyay) had to follow the rule of law, which is that it is his responsibility, and not the Chief Minister’s, to receive the PM and brief him,” said P K Basu, former Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Member, Central Administrative Tribunal. “That is the rule and also the custom. He did not have to ask the Chief Minister. Suppose if something went wrong during the visit, it is the Chief Secretary that would lose his job, not the CM.”

“The point is an IAS officer has no boss. His boss is the Constitution, the rule of law, and his conscience. Bandopadhyay failed in his duty. By not giving a presentation to PM, by insulting the PM, whereas Bengal could have got Rs 1000 crore from Centre, they maybe got Rs 500 crore. It is the loss of the people of Bengal.”

Bandyopadhyay, a 1987-batch IAS officer, retired on May 31 following which he was appointed Adviser to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

“It is not just a matter of violation of protocol and etiquette but it is a violation of law,” said N K Aggarwal, who retired as Chairman of the Bihar Public Service Commission in 2006. “The President appoints the All India Service officers. The PM heading the Council of Ministers represents the authority of the President. Thereby, he is an authority higher than the CM or the Chief Secretary. By insulting the PM, the officer has slighted the President himself.”

Aggarwal added that it is the duty of the Chief Secretary and the DGP of a state to protect not only the security but also the dignity of the PM when he is visiting.

“The PM, in this context, is also the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority. It is the law for them to attend to him,” he said. “The Chief Secretary post is not a dole given to him by the Chief Minister.”

A senior official said that by not attending the PM’s review meeting on cyclone, Bandyopadhyay may have set a “disturbing precedent.” “What if the district magistrate or some officer of a block in the Panchayat held by a rival party decides to stop coordinating with the state’s Chief Secretary? That would be a complete breakdown of the three-tier system of administration, Centre, state and panchayati raaj, and lead to anarchy,” said a senior serving IAS officer. “He is the Chief Secretary of the state, not the chief secretary of the Chief Minister.”

A former Chief Secretary of Delhi said that it was “foolish” of Bandyopadhyay to behave the way he did. “No IAS officer ever does something like this. It is a complete violation of norms, precedence, protocol and everything. Imagine what signal it sends to the young officers serving everywhere,” the retired Chief Secretary said.

“Consider just the reverse – what if Central government officers in various departments including PSUs and NDMA refuse to attend meetings called by the Chief Secretary…in a whole lot of situations, including calamities. Would that not amount to institutional breakdown in a federal structure?” asked a senior officer in the Department of Personnel and Training.

On Tuesday, speaking to The Indian Express, former Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi, former Secretary of DoPT Satyanand Misra and former Home Secretary G K Pillai called the standoff “unprecedented,” “disturbing” and a “disregard for rules.”

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