Centre-Bengal tug of war over a senior bureaucrat shows why consultation, and even consent, is crucial

The year was 1995. I was a Secretary in the Government of Kerala. I had been on central deputation from 1985 to 1990. The Chief Secretary of the time had a brainwave. He decided to send to the Government of India a list of officers to be made available for central deputation whether or not they wanted to go. Like Abou ben Adhem, my name led all the rest. Now, I had no objection to going to Delhi, but I needed one more year in Trivandrum so that my children could complete a phase in their education.

Many of us in the list were very upset. However, the Department of Personnel and Training returned the list to the Chief Secretary, saying that the Government of India only wants officers who are willing to go on central deputation. I went the next year and never returned to the state for the next 15 years until I retired as Cabinet Secretary in 2011.

During my unusually long tenure in the Government of India, a serious attempt was made by the state government to get me back as Chief Secretary. I was not particularly inclined because elections were due in the state in three months and, in Kerala, governments had a history then of changing every five years. Besides, the position of Cabinet Secretary was opening up in October that year and I thought I had a fair chance of being selected as I would be the senior-most at that point of time. This time, the PM told the CM directly that I could not be spared because the Centre required my services.

Indeed, throughout my career, my understanding has always been that the appointment and deputation of IAS officers requires agreement between the central government and the state government and that the willingness of the officer concerned is also taken into consideration before he is moved from the state to the Centre.

Rule 6.1 of the IAS (Cadre) Rules, 1954, specifies as follows: “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 or under a company, association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not, which is wholly or substantially owned or controlled by the central government or by another state government. 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.”

The key word is “deputation”. An IAS officer is deputed from the state to the Centre, not the other way round. The deputation of an IAS officer always involved a decision of both the central and state governments, even though the view of the former would prevail in case of disagreement. I am not aware of any change in this rule.

I was, therefore, intrigued when the Chief Secretary of West Bengal, whose tenure had been extended by a period of three months after retirement with the approval of no less than the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet four days earlier, was suddenly posted to Delhi on the day he would have normally retired. As the Bengal CM’s subsequent letter shows, there was no consultation with the state government. The officer was obviously not willing to go on central deputation as he chose to retire, declining the extension given to him, rather than appear before the DOPT for a posting.

There was no disagreement between the Centre and the state as the views of the state government had never been sought. If there had been disagreement between the two, the Centre’s stand would have prevailed under the rule, but in this case, there was no consultation at all. There was also nothing in the order to show why he was so urgently required in Delhi for a period of three months after his retirement.

Another point regarding this episode aroused my curiosity. I do not know Alapan Bandyopadhyay personally, but, from all that I have heard of him, he was a professional, non-controversial officer, whose work was appreciated by both the Left government and the succeeding TMC government. However, from what I could see, he has not been empanelled as Secretary to the Government of India. Possibly he has not been empanelled at lower levels also.

Those who have not served with the Centre at lower levels are not usually considered for empanelment in the Government of India from the level of Joint Secretary upwards. He would have been empanelled by the state, which follows a different process through their Civil Services Board and their Cabinet, but such empanelment is valid only for cadre posts under the state government.

In case Bandyopadhyay had come to Delhi on March 31, as required of him in the DOPT order, at what level would he have been posted? If he is posted at a lower level without his willingness, that is tantamount to a penalty imposed upon him without inquiry. Would this not be a violation of Article 311 of the Constitution? Or was he empanelled during the four days between May 24 and 28? There is no such indication. There are, thus, many curious aspects. At the end of the day, I am left with the impression that this is another off-the-cuff, impulsive action, driven by political fights rather than the needs of the country.

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