In a new twist to the set of dramatic and unprecedented developments of the tussle between the Centre and the state government, West Bengal chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay retired on Monday instead of joining duty at North Block in New Delhi, following which he was appointed as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's advisor for three years.
Bandyopadhyay was scheduled to retire on May 31, but the state had earlier sought a three-month extension, which the Centre had approved.
However, the Centre, in an unprecedented move, called Bandyopadhyay back to Delhi after Banerjee skipped a scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 28. Bandyopadhyay had accompanied Banerjee for the state government's meeting instead of staying at the prime minister's meeting with the governor and Union ministers.
Despite the Centre's letter, the state had refused to release Bandyopadhyay and the chief minister conveyed this objection to the Centre in a letter on Monday. She wrote that the state was not releasing Bandyopadhyay given the situation arising due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Cyclone Yaas.
On Monday evening, Banerjee said that she had just received a letter from the Centre asking Bandyopadhyay to report to the department of personnel and training, North Block at 10 am on June 1.
"I am shocked to receive this letter. We had written to them saying that they cannot take a unilateral decision. The chief secretary is the senior-most bureaucrat in a government. It is shameful and has never happened in history. They did not consult the state and +mentioned no reason in the letter," she said.
Incidentally, Bandyopadhyay on Monday reached the state secretariat at 10 am and attended a cyclone review meeting chaired by the chief minister.
Later, she told the media that she had accepted Bandyopadhyay's request for allowing him to retire.
However, there are reports that the Centre might not take this move lightly and could penalise Bandyopadhyay for failing to report the department of personnel and training. Bureaucrats were not sure if the centre could still initiate action against him, since he had taken retirement.
"I don't see the matter ending here. The centre may initiate action finding one clause or the other, and Bandyopadhyay is likely to challenge the Centre's action. It seems some kind of a legal battle is going to take place," said a senior bureaucrat serving at the state government who did not want to be identified.
Another bureaucrat said that the Centre may refuse to acknowledge his retirement as procedurally correct. "However, since the state government did not release him, Bandyopadhyay will have enough protection in a legal battle," he said.
Notably, the chief minister had earlier appointed the former director-general of police, Surajit Kar Purkayastha, as the state security advisor. Over the past few months, governor Jagdeep Dhankhar had repeatedly raised questions about that appointment.
A senior bureaucrat said that the issue has turned into a battle between the Centre and the state government over having an influence on the IAS and IPS officers.
"While the Centre wants to prove that it being the appointing authority of civil service officers has the final say on their career, the state government has aptly rewarded Bandyopadhyay with a three-year post-retiral job to earn the confidence of these bureaucrats. It's a snub to the Centre and it will not take it lightly," the bureaucrat said.
In December 2020, following an attack on the convoy of BJP national president J P Nadda in South 24-Parganas district, the Centre had recalled three IPS officers to Delhi but the state refused to release them. They are still working with the state government and it seems that the Centre did not pursue the case at that time.
At the time of transferring three IPS officer to central government posts, the DoPT had cited rule 6(1) for IPS and IAS cadres that says in the case of a disagreement between the Centre and the state over the officer's posting, the Centre will take the call and the state will have to implement it.
Bureaucrats in West Bengal told Outlook on Monday that they now expect the Centre to use this clause of the IPS and IAS cadre governing rules more frequently.
"In this particular case, Bandyopadhyay will have an edge in any legal battle because he retired before the Centre's second letter, asking him to report in New Delhi on June 1, reached him on Monday," said a top babu at the Bengal secretariat.