Mamata and Bandopadhyay undermined federalism
I am appalled at the gross insubordination displayed by the outgoing Chief Secretary of West Bengal and the subsequent outpouring of sympathy for this recalcitrant officer from some members of the IAS fraternity.
Just as there is a fundamental structure of the Constitution which is inviolable, there is a fundamental ethic of federalism which is the cornerstone of our constitutional system. It is painful to note that the actions of the Chief Minister and the actions of the outgoing Chief Secretary of West Bengal, Alapan Bandyopadhyay, on May 28, dealt a blow to this fundamental ethic, both in the letter and in the ‘mind.
Our constitutional system clearly delineates the role and responsibilities of the Prime Minister. No doubt should prevail in anyone’s mind as to the precedence of the Prime Minister in our constitutional system over a Chief Minister. This is not only a courteous subtlety, but a fundamental requirement of the Constitution of India.
It is inconceivable that a Chief Minister not only deliberately defied the scheme of the Constitution, but also exacerbated a situation which prevented the Prime Minister from exercising his constitutional and legal responsibilities, not only as Prime Minister, but also as chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority.
What has been observed in West Bengal is a collapse of the governmental responsibility of state government, an orchestrated game and the collapse of cooperative federalism. Regarding the issue of Bandyopadhyay’s recall to the central deputy, all actions against him were taken in accordance with Rule 6 (1) of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules 1954. There should be no confusion as to the powers that these rules confer on the central government. with, which is also the supervisory authority for the executives of All India Services.
What is rather worrying is that Bandyopadhyay, as chief secretary of state, failed to properly advise the chief minister in his official position, as the chief minister wrote a letter on May 31. to assert his personal point of view. However, what is even more distressing is that despite the fact that the Chief Minister made a strong case for Bandyopadhyay in his letter written on May 31, he chose to retire on the same day, even though he did. he was granted a three-month extension.
This three-month extension was only granted after the West Bengal state government requested it. Have the circumstances that so necessitated an out-of-turn extension cease to exist that Bandyopadhyay has chosen to retire? We are forced to ask ourselves whether our responsibilities towards the State have now taken a back seat and whether personal benefits have taken precedence?
Some sympathetic IAS officers in Bandyopadhyay may think he was in a Catch-22 situation and therefore cannot be blamed. They are wrong. The IAS and IPS have lost much of their reputation because the public sees them as sycophants of chief ministers and ministers.
We all know that the Prime Minister of the State’s agenda is of the highest priority. The chief secretary, down to the magistrate of the district concerned and the police commissioner, are personally responsible for the smooth running of everything. When the Chief Minister left the meeting, why did Bandopadhyay go with her? Was it not his duty to stay back and make the planned presentation to the Prime Minister on the cyclone situation so that he could get a clear idea and decide on the level of central assistance required? The officer violated protocol by leaving the meeting and it was a direct insult to those in high constitutional office.
Our democracy, the largest in the world, is encapsulated in a federal structure that ensures the smooth functioning of the entire system. Cooperative federalism, which the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been practicing for seven years, remains the touchstone for working together. Any gratuitous deviation from a state or its chief minister militates for the sanctity of such coordinated work. By making an invasive foray into the review mechanism planned by the Prime Minister, the head of the government of West Bengal has tried to arrogate to herself an authority that does not exist.
It is clear that West Bengal, historically known for its culture, respect for elders and the hospitality of its guests, experienced an inconceivable incident, where its Chief Minister created an unfortunate record of leaving the Prime Minister in excusing other responsibilities elsewhere.
The actions of the Chief Minister not only undermined the established authority of the Prime Minister, but also dealt an irreparable blow to the federal structure of our democracy. It is the duty of the government to ensure a good bureaucracy, not of bureaucrats who play politics. The action against Bandopadhyay under the Disaster Management Act is just the law that is ongoing. If someone breaks a law, he must be punished.
Moral of the story: IAS and IPS officers, stop hanging out with politicians.
This article first appeared in the print edition on June 4, 2021 under the title “A Breach of Federal Protocol”. The author is a former secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and a former member of the Central Administrative Court.