Mamata Banerjee urges PM Modi to cancel bureaucrat’s Central deputation
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw the May 28 order that asked state chief secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay to report for duty at the North Block office of the department of training and personnel by 10am on May 31.
Bandopadhyay did not travel to Delhi as Banerjee, in her letter, refused to release him. He attended a virtual meeting chaired by the chief minister and including district magistrates and departmental secretaries at 3pm to review relief work in districts hit by Cyclone Yaas last week.
The five-page letter was sent amid heightened political and bureaucratic activity in the state. Bandopadhyay, who was to retire on Monday, was given a three-month extension by the Centre on May 24 after the state sent a formal request, saying his presence was needed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I am shocked and stunned by the unilateral order…,” Banerjee wrote in the letter, asking if there was a correlation between the Centre’s sudden decision to transfer the bureaucrat and the meeting Modi held at Kalaikunda in West Midnapore on May 28 during his visit to assess cyclone damage. Though Banerjee met Modi briefly, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and Union ministers alleged that she skipped the meeting and thereby insulted Modi. This triggered a political row.
In her letter, Banerjee not only questioned the legal validity of the order sent to Bandopadhyay but also mentioned in detail the circumstances under which she and the chief secretary met Modi at Kalaikunda where leader of the opposition Suvendu Adhikari was also present Adhikari, a former Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader, joined the BJP in December last year and defeated her in the assembly polls from Nandigram by 1,958 votes. In the letter, Banerjee referred to Adhikari as “local MLA.”
“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 preconditions of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Service Cadre Rules, 1954, and the other applicable laws under reference. The unilateral order/directive is legally untenable, historically unprecedented and wholly unconstitutional,” wrote Banerjee.
“…..I presume that the said order of May 24, 2021, granting extension as chief secretary, issued after mutual written consultations and on the basis of the reasons deliberated upon during such consultation in accordance with due process stands and ought to stand in any case. In this regard, I seek your kind conformation in public interest and in the larger interests of the people of the state of West Bengal in these difficult times,” the chief minister wrote amid reports that her government was preparing for a legal battle with Delhi.
“The All-India services themselves and the laws, including rules, framed for it, have federal cooperation as the cornerstone of its legal architectural. The whole aim of the all-India services has been to protect and give greater cohesion to the federal foundations of this Constitution. With unilateral and non-consultative orders being issued, the federal system is gravely endangered and severely undermined. ….. I presume and sincerely hope that you do not want to damage the federal amity. I also presume and sincerely hope that you do not want to destroy the morale of all the all-India service officers working in various states across the country,” wrote Banerjee.
“I really do not understand what happened between your allowing extension to the officer as chief secretary as few days back on May 24, 2021 after Centre-State consultation to enable him to serve the state of West Bengal in these times, and your unilateral order (4 days later) issued in contradiction to the extension granted by you. The unilateral order also does not provide any details, reasons and/or particulars as to why central deputation of Sri Alapan Bandopadhyay IAS, chief secretary, West Bengal, is required suddenly by you only few days after granting an order of extension following due consultation process. Does it have something to do with our meeting at Kalaikunda on May 28, 20201?” wrote Banerjee.
“I really and sincerely hope that this latest order is not related to my meeting with you at Kalaikunda. If that be the reason, it would be sad, unfortunate and would amount to sacrificing public interest at the altar of misplaced priorities,” the letter said.
Narrating how she had to change the schedule of her visits to the cyclone-hit areas (in a chopper) and her efforts to meet the Prime Minister personally, Banerjee wrote, “I wanted to have a quiet word with you, and meeting between the Prime Minister and the chief minister as usual.”
“You however revised the structure of the meeting to include a local MLA from your party and I am of the view (based on my knowledge of the affairs of the state for about 40 years) that he had no locus to be present in a PM-CM meeting. You had invited the honourable Governor and some Union Ministers also to the meeting, which I had not objected to (the honourable Governor had no role to play in this meeting either, as per our Constitutional scheme, as you also very well know, but I am refraining from commenting further in this regard as a gesture of propriety and courtesy), but an individual MLA, having no locus attending the meeting was unacceptable,” wrote Banerjee.
The Union ministers she referred to are Dharmendra Pradhan and Debasree Chaudhuri, an MP from north Bengal.
Incidentally, on May 27, Banerjee held a review meeting with her officers and said 134 river embankments built by the state irrigation and waterways department were washed away. She ordered an inquiry into the money spent by the department which was headed by Adhikari between 2018 and December before he resigned from the Cabinet and the TMC.
“The chief secretary of my state had continually sent messages to a senior officer accompanying you for either getting this issue sorted out or to arrange a meeting between PM and CM before that meeting. Despite a series of messages, we got no positive result or response. My director (security) was also in touch with the SPG in this regard,” Banerjee wrote to Modi.
“Finally, keeping aside legitimate reservations, I entered the meeting with the chief secretary of my state to hand over our report to you. You personally took the report from my hand and then I specifically and expressly sought permission from you for us to leave for Digha, our next cyclone-ravaged destination, where a meeting was due and participants were waiting. You expressly permitted us to take our leave. The matter must and ought to end there,” Banerjee wrote.
“However, in the evening, suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, came the order seeking reversion of the chief secretary to Delhi, whereby the state is deprived of his experienced services, he superannuates on the day itself and the whole episode appears to be suggestive of arbitrariness, unseemly haste, in violation of the Constitutional scheme and the applicable laws….,” the letter said.
Referring to the recent death of the chief secretary’s bother, Banerjee wrote that Bandopadhyay continued to prioritise his work for the state. “The decision seems to have been taken with mala fide intention and in hot haste,” she wrote.
“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 the 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,” Banerjee wrote.
Starting that Bandopadhyay’s presence in Bengal was necessary for public interest the chief minister wrote that the “officer’s continued presence in my state in these difficult times was accepted to be vital and necessary by your Government even 4 days back.”
“Since the Centre gave us a letter, we replied to it. It is a matter of courtesy. I cannot say anything more right now,” Banerjee said after her administrative meeting ended at 4pm.
Explaining the letter, minister Chandrima Bhattacharya told the media that the entire episode seemed to be part of a political conspiracy. “We urge those in power not to play with the law,” she said.
“The Union law minister commented that the chief secretary walked out of the Prime Minister’s meeting. How could he do that? He only accompanied the chief minister. He went there with her and left with her. How could the chief secretary independently walk out?” said Bhattacharya.
Bengal BJP leaders refused to comment on the letter saying it was a government matter and had nothing to do with politics. “Adhikari said on Saturday that he was present at the PM’s meeting as leader of the opposition in Bengal. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was also invited but he could not attend,” a senior state BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.