The sudden move by the Centre last week to ask West Bengal Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay to report in New Delhi on deputation has added a new twist to the tale of testy ties between CM Mamata Banerjee and the Narendra Modi government. The order has been lambasted by the CM while the date it had given for Bandyopadhyay to reach Delhi has lapsed. All eyes are now on what the next moves will be in this saga.
Can Centre Ask An IAS Officer Serving In A State To Join New Posting?
The order from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) directing the Bengal Chief Secretary’s transfer was made under rule 6(1) of the Indian Administrative Service (cadre) rules, 1954. It asked the West Bengal government to immediately relieve Bandyopadhyay, who was in turn asked to report to DoPT in New Delhi by 10 am on May 31. That deadline, of course, passed without either the state government effecting the order or Bandyopadhyay reporting in Delhi.
Rule 6(1) says that a cadre officer may, with the concurrence of the state governments concerned and the central government, be deputed for service under the central government or another state government etc. The Centre is the controlling authority for IAS officers and the orders in that regard would be issued by New Delhi. But it is to be noted that rule 6(1) says such deputation should occur with “the concurrence of the state governments concerned and the central government.”
However, the rule adds that in case of a disagreement between the Centre and the state on the issue of deputation of an officer, the Centre’s view will prevail. “Provided that in case of any disagreement, the matter shall be decided by the central government and the state government or state governments concerned shall give effect to the decision of the central government,” it says.
While serving and retired officers have said that the Centre does indeed have the power to order central deputation for an all-India service officer — which is what IAS, Indian Police Service and Indian Forest Service officers are — it is difficult to force an officer against his will to come to the Centre.
“Ultimately, it all depends on what the officer wants. If he doesn’t want to come to the Centre and the state does not relieve him, the Centre cannot force,” former Union Home Secretary GK Pillai told News18.
So, What Happens Now?
The order for Bandyopadhyay’s transfer to the Centre followed days after the 1987-batch IAS Bengal cadre officer, who was set to retire on May 31, was granted a three-month extension by the Centre. The request for the extension was made by the state government, which cited the officer’s experience in handling the Covid-19 crisis.
“Our chief secretary has got an extension for three months. We are happy because he has got the experience of working during last year’s Amphan as well as during the ongoing pandemic,” CM Banerjee had said on May 25.
But with the order asking him to report to Delhi following on May 28, all eyes are on the brewing confrontation between the state government and the Centre.
Laying out the options in front of Bandyopadhyay, former IAS officer Pillai added, “The central government can at best issue a show-cause notice. But in this case the Bengal chief secretary can respond that he has retired, is on a three-month extension and, therefore, does not wish to move from Kolkata to Delhi. Why will you move for three months? Unless the Centre is promising you a two-year tenure as home or cabinet secretary.”
Rule 6(1) was earlier this year challenged in a PIL before the Supreme Court filed by a West Bengal-based lawyer who flagged the Centre’s authority to transfer IPS officers out of a state without the state government’s consent.
But the apex court dismissed the petition by Abu Sohel without hearing the arguments in the case. The PIL came in the wake of the Centre’s orders to transfer three senior police officers out of West Bengal following an alleged breach of security last year as the BJP national president JP Nadda was campaigning for the Assembly polls in Bengal.
The petition said that, “(a)rbitrary action by the Central government by virtue of the impugned Rule ultimately plays havoc with the right of officers to live a dignified life as guaranteed (by the Constitution).”