Lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung ordered the appointment of Shakuntala Doley Gamlin as interim chief secretary of Delhi on Friday, soon after it emerged that chief minister Arvind Kejriwal may have tried to coerce the lady officer to withdraw from the race.
Jung appeared to have won the latest, ugly round in the continuing spat with Kejriwal, telling the home ministry that the CM had threatened to tarnish the officer’s record as power and industries secretary if she did not pull out.
Home ministry sources told HT that Gamlin had brought to Jung’s notice an unsigned letter purportedly written to the L-G by Kejriwal and shown to her by the secretary to the Delhi CM.
Gamlin is understood to have told Jung that Kejriwal’s aide said the note would be appended to the file of the chief secretary’s appointment if she didn’t leave the race on her own volition.
“The aforesaid unsigned typed note… contained something to the following effect. That he (CM) had found the undersigned unsuitable for appointment as in-charge chief secretary as she has not only been ineffective in her present position but she has also tried to favour (discom) BSES (promoted by Reliance Industries Limited) for proposing a comfort letter for their loan from Power Finance Corporation. What is intended to be said about the undersigned could not be further removed from facts,” Gamlin wrote in a letter she handed to Jung, who in turn sent it to the home ministry.
Gamlin, a 1984-batch IAS officer and wife of the late Arunachal Pradesh CM Jarbom Gamlin, will function as the top Delhi bureaucrat until May 24, when chief secretary KK Sharma returns from the US, where he is on leave.
A spokesperson for the Kejriwal government said that in appointing Gamlin, Jung had bypassed the elected government, the chief minister and deputy chief minister, and that he did not have the extraordinary powers to do so.
“The government of NCT of Delhi had certain reservations about the conduct of Smt. Shakuntala Gamlin… She was perceived to be extremely close to electricity companies in Delhi and was lobbying for their interests within the government,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The LG’s office said that Jung regretted “the name of a senior officer being brought in public domain in such a manner, that too a lady officer and one belonging to the Northeast”.
It said Gamlin’s name had been proposed on May 13 and cleared immediately as against the name proposed by Kejriwal because she was senior and had a proven track record.
The latest round in the duel between the CM and the L-G began on Wednesday when four officers were shortlisted for the chief secretary’s job during the period Sharma was on leave. As per rules, financial commissioner Naini Jayseelan, the senior-most officer, was approved by Sharma as his replacement. However, the Kejriwal government decided to overrule three of the proposed four officers and added the name of 1985 batch officer Parimal Rai, who was awaiting a posting after returning from Goa a fortnight ago.
The Kejriwal government said the choice for interim chief secretary should be between Gamlin and her junior by one year, Rai. It is after this that the Delhi CM’s key aide tried to browbeat Gamlin to withdraw from the race and pave the way for Rai.
Reacting to the controversy, both the BJP and the Congress attacked the Kejriwal government, accusing it of trying to undermine the L-G's authority.
The confrontation came in the backdrop of a series of conflicts between the Jung and CM Kejriwal's government.
During the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP's) first stint, Jung had advised the Delhi assembly speaker against allowing the tabling of the Jan Lokpal Bill, saying the bill did not have the required clearance for introduction. However, AAP had gone ahead and tabled it.
Recently, Kejriwal issued directions to ministers and senior officials of Delhi government not to send files pertaining to police, public order and land to Jung's office.
Reacting strongly to the directive, Jung sought to assert his authority by directing top officials to route all important files through him as per constitutional framework and laid down procedures.
The L-G also made it clear that the role of the CM and the council of ministers was to aid and advise him, while he was entitled to act solely on his own discretion.
After the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the AAP had accused Jung of acting at the behest of BJP government at the Centre when he did not heed to Kejriwal's demand of dissolving the state assembly.
In November last year, Jung had recommended to the President dissolution of the assembly after the BJP, AAP and the Congress had expressed inability to form government and preferred holding of polls. Assembly polls were held in Delhi in February.
(With PTI inputs)