Govt Machinery in Bengal Politically Caged, Aiding Ruling Party's Corruption, Says Governor Dhankhar
File photos of West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Dhankhar says corruption in Amphan relief distribution has already taken explosive dimensions: a sort of scam in the making. The ruling party workers, though not entitled, got benefit, giving rise to protests, violence at many places.
- Last Updated: October 20, 2020, 12:05 IST
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On July 30, 2019, President Ram Nath Kovind appointed Jagdeep Dhankhar the governor of West Bengal. Dhankhar is an advocate at the Supreme Court, and was a member of the Lok Sabha from 1989 to 1991. Ever since he became the governor of West Bengal, Dhankhar has been hitting the headlines for his "differences" with the state's Trinamool Congress government. TMC leaders have even accused him of being an RSS and BJP agent and alleged that he turned the Raj Bhavan into a "BJP office". Recently, he dropped a bombshell when he said that he will be forced to “look into Article 154” of the Constitution, which mandates that the executive power of the state shall be vested in the governor and shall be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him.
In an email interview to News18.com, Jagdeep Dhankhar shared his opinion on various issues related to Bengal and the ruling TMC. Excerpts:
On many occasions you have said that you are working within the parameters of the Indian Constitution, yet you are facing stiff opposition from the West Bengal government. Why do you think that the government is against you?
The role of governor needs to be appreciated in a proper perspective. It is well-defined in the Constitution, particularly under Article 159 that calls upon the governor to ‘protect, defend and preserve’ the Constitution and to ‘serve’ the people of the state. I have scrupulously confined myself to these constitutional prescriptions. A governor is not a stakeholder in politics and not concerned with any outcome thereof. However, the governor is certainly concerned and a ‘critical stakeholder’ in governance as being obligated to ensure that governance be in consonance with the rule of law and constitutionalism. Those working in terms of the Constitution neither wear ‘kid gloves’ nor have ‘feet of clay’. Governor is neither a post office nor rubber stamp. How can any governor ‘fiddle’ in Raj Bhavan with such alarming state of affairs!
Recently, you made a bold statement saying that you will act if the Constitution is not protected. You also said you would be forced to 'look into Article 154' of the Constitution. No previous governors made such comments in the past. Why do you think your Article 154 statement is justified?
A governor is not required to make either mild or bold statements. A governor is required to be in conformity with the Constitution. The government of West Bengal is passing executive orders in the name of the governor and not communicating the same to the office of the governor, and this cannot be countenanced. Apart from being a blatant act of impropriety, the same is unconstitutional. In such a scenario, a word of caution has been indicated to the government to look into Article 154 and I am sure it will have a wholesome impact on them.
It is surely expected of any government to adhere to the rule of law and follow the Constitution. Disregarding these spells peril for it. I am ever in a persuasive mode with optimism that corrections would be effected.
Corruption in Amphan relief distribution has already taken explosive dimensions: a sort of scam in the making. The ruling party workers, though not entitled, got benefit, giving rise to protests, violence at many places, resulting in thrashing of TMC representatives.
Relief distribution has been converted into an opportunity by the ruling party cadre to make money. Drawing of beneficiary lists at political level and it being the basis of relief is sickening and stinking of corruption. The governmental machinery is 'politically caged' as it is in support mode for this corruption by the ruling party.
With the poring of such worrisome reports I was constrained to emphasise that relief benefit needs to be extended to entitled beneficiaries with accountability and transparency. Unfortunately there has been no follow-up.
The ruling party in Bengal alleged that the Raj Bhavan has turned into a BJP office and the governor is working as a BJP spokesperson. What do you have to say on this?
It is easy to make a governor a ‘punching bag’ by labelling him 'agent of the Centre' or being politically motivated. I take counsel from all but command only from the Constitution and no other script or authority. All my actions, in all forms, are inspired by wholesome motivations of serving the people of the state, be it with respect to rampant corruption post Amphan, denial of justice to farmers, political caging of the PDS or public servants functioning as political workers, amongst many.
To contain monumental lapses in governance and a strategy to further political prospects, the chief minister has unleashed a mechanism where extraconstitutional authority is in the virtual seat of governance. Massive single-tender purchases in Covid combat is being talked about as a scam with highest bureaucratic involvement. The same is with relief distribution.
How can a governor observe silence when the power corridors are infested by extraconstitutional authorities and the entire police and administration is in supine mode at their command! It is eclipsing the rule of law and sabotaging democracy. Enjoined by the Constitution to ‘defend, preserve and protect’ it, a governor has no escape but to step in.
Recently, you raised serious questions over the functioning of the annual Bengal Global Business Summit (BGBS). You asked 'where is the audit?’. You asked for its annual expenditure details and alleged fiscal irregularities. Why do you think there is something wrong while holding the BGBS? Are you satisfied with state finance minister Amit Mitra’s response (to you via official letter) on this?
The response of Dr Amit Mitra has stunned me. My communications to him, as also the chief minister, are self-indicative.
(Excerpts of the governor’s communication to Dr Mitra on September 30, 2020, read – “The communication was sent to you as ACS Finance Department failed to respond to the communication concerning BGBS that emanated from my Secretariat. I could never expect a Finance Minister, that too a person of your stature and eminence, to be so evasive, and opaque in response, to the Constituted Head, with respect on issues directly concerning your portfolio. Indeed a worrisome situation is that your four-page communication does not even remotely advert to any of the issues that were flagged for categorical responses like year-wise amount spent since 2016 in holding BGBS, agencies through which spending has been done, achievements/investment made so far etc. You skirting these issues leaves no scope but to conclude that there is an attempt to ‘hide’ and cover up the ground reality, giving credence to inputs that extravaganzas, organised at huge cost to public exchequer, did not yield expected or projected results. I am afraid, this cannot be countenanced.”)
Mamata Banerjee is the only woman chief minister in India. What are your suggestions to her and do you think that she is performing her duties well? What are the things that you liked about her?
It is the prerogative of Mamata Banerjee to act politically in the matter she thinks appropriate or expedient and that is not my concern in the least. However, her governance as CM has to be in accordance with the Constitution and rule of law. Her being in an adversarial stance with the central government is not in sync with the concept of federalism. As a result of this adversarial position, farmers in the state have already lost more than Rs 8,400 crore and each of the farmers has lost Rs 12,000 only because of non-adoption of PM Kisan. What a painful scenario that 100% direct transfer to the bank of 72 lakh farmers has not fructified because of her monumental lapse in non-adoption of PM Kisan. This is bad economics and surely not healthy politics. Similar is the situation with respect to Ayushman Bharat and the state had to suffer massively on account of poor health infrastructure during the pandemic.
Why do you think that the National Education Policy is good for our country?
The National Education Policy will for sure be a game-changer. It is a major milestone in the growth of our country. Ancient India was home to globally recognised institutions like Nalanda, Taxila and Mithila, amongst others. The National Education Policy has been evolved consensually by getting massive inputs from all the stakeholders and is aimed at securing full exploitation of talent and potential of our student community.
Being the chancellor, do you think that there is an urgent need to revamp the education system in West Bengal? If yes, then why? Why (despite performing your responsibility within the parameters of the Indian Constitution) did you face resentment from a section of students and teachers during convocations in some of the state universities?
As chancellor of several universities in the state of West Bengal, I am really worried. The state government has taken an approach that has virtually run down and crippled the education scenario. I hope things look up. West Bengal is home to prestigious institutions, many being more than a century old. Such universities and other institutions are the pride of our state. To have education in a political cage is always counterproductive and that should not happen. The autonomy of the universities, heavily compromised, is required to be restored.