Centre vs state

The unsavoury tug of war between the Centre and the West Bengal Government over IAS officer Alapan Bandyopadhyay demonstrates how badly the political class has dented the ‘steel frame of India’. The episode shows that confrontation is a foregone conclusion when there is no consultation. Days after extending Bandyopadhyay’s tenure as the Chief Secretary by three months to enable him to continue his work of managing the Covid pandemic in the state, the Centre had on May 28 sought the officer’s services and asked the state government to relieve him immediately. The Centre, which cited Rule 6(1) of the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules in its order recalling Bandyopadhyay, preferred not to keep the state in the loop before initiating the move. The rule says that a cadre officer may, with the concurrence of the state government concerned and the Centre, be deputed for service under the Central Government or another state. In case of disagreement, the Centre’s writ will run. However, no effort was made in this case to explore the possibility of concurrence.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, known for never shying away from a faceoff with the Union government, was quick to link the ‘unilateral’ order to her May 28 meeting with the Prime Minister. The timing of the move was questionable as it was at variance with the Centre’s earlier decision to grant extension to the officer. Moreover, the Centre erred by bypassing the due process of consultation, giving short shrift to the state which needed the officer’s services at this critical juncture.

With Mamata appointing Bandyopadhyay as her chief adviser after his retirement instead of relieving him, the Centre is expected to pull out all the stops to make him fall in line and get back at the defiant CM. The tussle will only make the officer sink deeper into the morass created by two power centres and demoralise the Indian bureaucracy at large. The developments also underscore a betrayal of the Bengal voters’ mandate. The Assembly elections ended a month ago. Now is the time for good governance, not for petty political fights detrimental to the state’s interests.

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