A petty, vindictive and poor decision by the PMO to recall West Bengal’s Chief Secretary

The decision to recall the Chief Secretary of West Bengal, a 1987 batch IAS officer and a former journalist, to the Centre on the day of his retirement reflects poorly on PMO, PM and the Home Minister

Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @jdhankhar1
Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @jdhankhar1

AJ Prabal

In the normal course the West Bengal Chief Secretary would have retired on Monday. But following a request by the West Bengal Chief minister, who wanted an extension of the service in view of the Covid situation in the state, the Centre had agreed to extend the service of the 1987 batch of the IAS for three months.

Late on Friday evening, however, the Centre recalled his services from the state and ordered him to report to the Department of Personnel at the North Block in New Delhi by 10 AM on May 31. His services had been placed with the Government of India, the communication tersely mentioned.

Till yesterday afternoon, by all available indications, neither the Chief Minister of the state nor the Chief Secretary were aware of the development. The communication itself, dated May 28, reportedly reached the CS after 7 pm although both the CM and the CS were away from Kolkata, touring the cyclone ravaged areas of the state. They were scheduled to return to Kolkata only on Saturday morning.

While Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met the Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Kalaikunda Airforce base around 3.30 pm and handed over a memorandum listing damages caused by the cyclone, she sought the PM’s permission to leave for Digha, where she was slated to attend a review meeting. She and the CS were both touring cyclone ravaged areas since the morning.

While the Prime Minister himself maintained a studied silence and would not clarify if the CM had left despite the PM urging her to attend the meeting. But in their tweets, both the Governor Jagdeep Dhankar and Union Home Minister Amit Shah accused the chief minister of showing disrespect to the PM.

A photograph tweeted by the Governor shows the leader of the opposition in the West Bengal Assembly Shubhendu Adhikari sitting by the side of the Governor while several chairs on the opposite side, ostensibly meant for the Chief Minister and the CS, were unoccupied. The sitting arrangement made it look as if Adhikari, the Governor and central government officials accompanying the PM were on the same side while the state government officials apparently were to make up the ‘other’ side.

Amit Shah, who has refrained from tweeting on oxygen shortage, Covid deaths and Vaccines falling short, was quick to tweet his anguish and said, “Mamata Didi’s conduct today is an unfortunate low. Cyclone Yaas has affected several common citizens and the need of the hour is to assist those affected. Sadly, Didi has put arrogance above public welfare and today’s petty behaviour reflects that.”

The Governor while tweeting the photograph of the review meeting in progress, said, “At the Review meet by PM on Cyclone Yaas to assess damage caused, CM Mamata Banerjee and her officials did not participate. Such ‘boycott’ not in consonance with Constitution and federalism… “

With officials claiming that the chief minister had sought the PM’s permission to leave and that they had parted cordially at Kalaikunda, questions are being raised about the use of the word ‘boycott’ by the Governor. While Amit Shah refrained from using the word ‘boycott’, he used the word ‘conduct’ to run down the chief minister. Could it be much ado about nothing?

That the Prime Minister was peeved became clear by the marching orders given to the Chief Secretary. But if it was the Chief Minister who had upset the PM, why punish the CS?

Alapan Bandopadhyay, the hugely popular IAS officer and a former journalist, has never served outside Bengal, claim media reports. If so, the Centre’s decision to recall him to the Centre for the last three months of his service makes even less sense.

Taking a step like this without consulting either the officer concerned or the Chief Minister is a bad precedent; and Mamata Banerjee has been left with no option but to protest and seek to delay the decision. The officer himself can ask for time or the state government can approach the court for relief. But the officer may also decide to comply in order to avoid post-retirement hassles.

In any case the PM and the PMO comes out in poor light and appear petty and spiteful.

In the meanwhile, we can wait for more tweets on ‘federalism’ by the West Bengal Governor and the Union Home Minister.

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