The unusual order of the Department of Personnel and Training(DOPT), Government of India, to the former Chief Secretary of West Bengal to report by 10 AM of 31st May 2021 in the Department goes against the very essence of service rules and all precedents governing deputation. This is all the more glaring since the said officer was not even empanelled to be eligible to serve as the Secretary level officer under the Union government. Such top down approach to summon a Chief Secretary on deputation without his consent, and disregarding the opposition of the State government on whose cadre the officer is borne, is unheard of in the annals of public administration in India.The sad spectacle of the DoPT issuing orders to forcibly bring the said Chief Secretary on deputation immediately after the claim of the West Bengal Chief Minister that she took permission of the PM to leave the cyclone review meeting after submitting a report to him smacks of revenge and retribution on the part of the Union Government. It is aghast to note that DoPT which functions directly under the Prime Minister Modi was used to so blatantly to impose deputation on a Chief Secretary.Only a few days back, on the request of the West Bengal Government, the Government of India granted him extension for three months beyond his retirement on 31st May 2021 to serve the West Bengal Government because of his in-depth administrative experience and expertise to handle COVID pandemic. Such acrimony inherent in the deputation order of the DOPT issued to the former Chief Secretary of West Bengal conveys the message that Prime Minister Modi is at his wit’s end after the humiliating defeat of his party in the recently held Assembly elections held in eight phases. The fact that Chief Minister of Bengal did not attend the review meeting with PM should never have constituted a valid reason for DOPT to target the Chief Secretary of the State. It spoke volumes for a needless muscular approach to deal with a Chief Secretary in a highly unfair manner. This sordid behaviour on the part of PM led DOPT is indicative of the gross deficiency of grace and decency which should governed the actions of leadership of the Union Government for judiciously applying the rules of deputation.
Modi Regime Should Learn from Sardar Patel to Deal with Civil Servants
It was Sardar Bhallavbhai Patel, the architect of Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service, who cautioned some Members of the Constituent Assembly(Legislative) when they sharply criticised civil servants of that period for their so called acts of commission and omission and told them in no uncertain terms that “it is bad workmanship to quarrel with the instruments.” He urged them to deal with civil servants fairly. The top leaders of the Modi regime who leave no stone unturned to praise Sardar Patel should learn lessons from his exemplary conduct with civil servants and mend their behaviour when they deal with the present generation of officials who are part of all India civil services.
Example of Odisha Chief Secretary's Deputation to Government of India based on Consultation
In the context of PM Modi led DOPT’s avoidable order forcibly asking former West Bengal Chief Secretary to come on deputation to the Government of India, one is reminded of another such deputation of Chief Secretary of Odisha, Shri Sivaraman to the Agriculture Ministry of the Union Government. While the West Bengal Chief Secretary was imposed with an order to come on deputation to the Government of India in 2021, the Odisha Chief Secretary Shivraman was requested by then then Agriculture Minister of India, C Subramaniam, to come on deputation in 1965 as Union Agriculture Secretary to assist him to take forward the cause of green revolution. The Odisha Government at that time was not willing to release its Chief Secretary. C Subramanium repeatedly took up the matter with the Government of Odisha to accede to his request on the ground that Sivaraman had considerable expertise on agriculture and irrigation. Eventually he was allowed by the Odisha Government to proceed on deputation and serve as Agriculture Secretary in the Government of India. It has been mentioned by Subramanium in his book “Hand of Destiny : Green revolution” that after considerable difficulty he could secure the posting of Odisha Secretary on deputation as Agriculture Secretary of the Government of India.
One is conscious of the fact the circumstances were different in the two instances. In 1965 both at the Centre and Odisha there were Congress Governments. In the present case involving dictation to West Bengal Chief Secretary to proceed on deputation to the Government of India there are two different parties, Trinamool Congress ruling West Bengal and BJP under Prime Minister Modi ruling India. In spite of completely different circumstances forming the backdrop in two cases some vital and constructive lessons need to be learnt from Sivaraman’s deputation to the Union Government in 1965 in the context of the orders issued for forced deputation of West Bengal Chief Secretary.
There was no coercion on the part of the Union Government to put Odisha Chief Secretary’s services at the disposal of the Union Government. There was no bitter acrimony involved between the Centre and State as is the case now involving West Bengal Government and Union Government headed by Prime Minister Modi. The present bitter acrimony is attributed to Modi Government’s unilateral decision to force West Bengal Chief Secretary to proceed on deputation. The unilateral decision of the Union Government has been described by Chief Minister of West Bengal in her letter to Prime Minister as “ legally untenable, historically unprecedented and wholly unconstitutional,” There is a lot of truth in what the Chief Minister wrote. The Supreme Court in the State Of Punjab & Others vs Inder Singh & Others observed in its 1997 judgement that “There can be no deputation without the consent of the person so deputed…” The order of the Government of India forcing the Chief Secretary of Bengal to come on deputation to the Centre without his consent was in clear violation of the law established by the apex court of our country.
Consent of Officer and State Government Essential for Deputation
Besides, the Prime Minister who exercises direct jurisdiction over the DOPT and its functions should be mindful of the rudimentary rules involving deputation. Bringing an officer on deputation by a Department from another State means borrowing the services of that officer. So how can a borrowing department force an officer of another department or State to come on deputation by dispensing with the consent of both the officer and the State Government?
Earlier also the Modi Government had asked three officers of Indian Police Service belonging to West Bengal Cadre to come on deputation to the centre after the convoy of BJP President JP Nadda faced attack and violence. Those three IPS officers were in charge of security of the area through which the convoy was passing. The West Bengal Government did not release them.
Service Jurisprudence on Deputation must be Upheld
Given such historical precedents the order of the DOPT literally and figuratively forcing the West Bengal Chief Secretary to come on deputation to the Centre does not set a healthy example. Meanwhile the West Bengal Government has retired its Chief Secretary on the day of his superannuation on 31st May and he has been appointed as Advisor to the Government for three years. It makes the order of the DOPT for his deputation infructuous. The Government of India’s decisions for bringing officers on deputation should be based on sound principles of service jurisprudence and not whimsical and hasty decisions devoid of judicious application of mind.
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.