Notice to Alapan Bandyopadhyay under Disaster Management Act
The Centre has asked Alapan Bandyopadhyay, former chief secretary and now chief adviser to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, to explain in writing by Thursday why action should not be taken against him for violating the Disaster Management Act, 2005, by skipping the Prime Minister’s review meeting in Kalaikunda on Friday.
A letter sent by the Centre to Bandyopadyay on Monday night said that after the Prime Minister arrived at Kalaikunda for a scheduled review meeting with the chief minister and chief secretary of Bengal, “the Prime Minister and other members of his entourage waited for nearly 15 minutes for the officers of the state government to arrive”.
It added that “in view of the absence, the Chief Secretary was called by an official as to whether they wanted to participate in the review meeting or not. Thereafter, Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal, arrived, along with the Chief Minister of West Bengal, inside the meeting room and left thereafter immediately.”
The Centre said that by abstaining himself from the review meeting taken by the Prime Minister, who is also the Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), in the aftermath of cyclone Yaas, Bandyopadhyay “has acted in a manner tantamount to refusing to comply with lawful directions of the central government”.
The letter felt the abstention violated Section 51 (b) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The section prescribes punishment for obstruction or refusal to comply with a directive given on behalf of the Centre or the state government. The offence carries a maximum jail term of two years on conviction.
Several serving and former officers said the Centre had fallen back upon the Disaster Management Act to harass Bandyopadhyay as his retirement on superannuation — by refusing to opt for the three-month extension that was given to him unilaterally by attaching him to Delhi — had immunised him from any action under the IAS (Cadre) Service Rules, 1954.
“This (showcause notice by the Centre) smacks of vendetta and nothing else. It is pure harassment of a senior IAS officer who retired yesterday,” former Union HRD secretary Anil Swarup told The Telegraph on Tuesday.
Swarup said that under IAS service rules, the Centre could not have taken any justifiable action against Bandyopadhyay.
“He has not been served a notice as a chief secretary per se. It is under a particular section of the DMA. The Centre could not find anything else against him so they picked it (the DMA) up,” he said.
Swarup added that according to the Disaster Management Act, the Centre would have to first register an FIR and investigate the matter.
A serving Union home ministry official attached to the internal security wing said the Centre’s action was totally “unwarranted”. “I think the action against the officer is the result of the Centre’s perceived vindictiveness towards the state government,” he said, requesting anonymity.
“It is sad that a civil servant is getting caught in a political crossfire because he, being an officer in a state government, had to go by what the CM had said. No way he could have attended the meeting, and using the Disaster Management Act to punish him is very sad and unfortunate,” said a retired IAS officer who had served in the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).
An IAS officer who had served as secretary in the home ministry said: “It’s simply shocking to come to know of the Centre’s priorities at a time thousands of people have died because of the pandemic. The Centre has chosen to harass an officer. This is nothing but a distraction from the key issues facing the country and hiding their own failures.”
Sources in Nabanna said that Bandyopadhyay would send a reply to the MHA probably on Wednesday.
“The tone of the letter will not be confrontational... He is likely to explain why he himself could not be present at the meeting venue on time. Moreover, as the district magistrate and the police superintendent were present there, it cannot be said that the protocol was not followed,” said a source.
Sources in Nabanna said the version of the Centre about the review meeting at Kalaikunda was in divergence with what the chief minister had already explained.
The chief minister had categorically pointed out during a news conference on Saturday that she had to wait for 20 minutes in Sagar, where she had gone to hold a review meeting after making an aerial survey of the area, before boarding the helicopter to reach Kalaikunda.
“I didn’t mind it. I respect the Prime Minister’s security protocols,” the chief minister had said, indicating that she was asked to wait before boarding the chopper to Kalaikunda. She had also added that the chopper had to hover in the air for 10 to 15 minutes before landing at Kalaikunda.
The chief minister had also said that when she reached Kalaikunda, a meeting was already on and she had to wait before handing over the list of damages to the Prime Minister at the conference room as his meeting had started.
“Then I handed it over to the Prime Minister. He took it. And with his permission, I left (for Digha),” the chief minister had said.
As the chief minister’s version made it clear that she would have landed at Kalaikunda at least 35 minutes earlier had she been allowed to proceed as planned, neither she nor Bandyopadhyay can be blamed for making the Prime Minister wait, the sources pointed out.