Political and administrative elements in maintaining Healthy Federalism

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Synopsis: The recent Centre-West Bengal controversy over Political and administrative elements has brought attention towards the health of the federal structure in India.

Background:

  • The recent issue is that the former Chief Secretary of Bengal reached late in the meeting called by Prime Minister to review cyclone relief work.
  • Though both political and administrative state functionaries were requested to attend the meeting, the chief secretary along with West Bengal Chief Minister left the meeting abruptly.
  • Consequently, the centre has sent showcase notices and a charge sheet for the chief secretary’s failure in fully and properly participating in the meeting.
  • These events raised concerns regarding the norms of civil service conduct, political and administrative arrogance and revengeful behaviour.

Why the Centre’s action on the Former chief secretary of Bengal is unwarranted?

To understand this issue, a few important political and administrative elements should be kept in mind.

  • Firstly, India is a ‘union of states ‘.
    • The State governments are not subordinate agencies of the central government.
    • As per the Constitution, the Centre’s decisions have primacy over those of the State governments.
    • But the primacy does not extend to the holding of meetings.
  • Secondly, most relief and rehabilitation work during natural calamity or disaster is done at the local level under the State governments.
    • Also, the Disaster Management Act, 2005 operates mainly at the State, district and local levels.
    • However, the States have given space to the Centre for disaster management for getting financial, technical and logistical support.
  • Thirdly, civil servants are required to balance between loyalty toward states and loyalty toward center.
    • IAS officers are ultimately subject to the control of the respective State governments when they are in the employment of their States.
    • Otherwise, IAS officers will face trust deficit, if they show preference or loyalty to the central government just because they are appointed by the Center.
  • Fourthly, the center has violated the norms required for “deputation”.
    • As a measure of punishment, the former chief secretary for his conduct was initially called to the Centre on ‘deputation’ on the day he was to retire.
    • This was done without the concurrence of the state government. But the concurrence of the state is required before an officer of its cadre is deputed to the Centre.
  • Fourthly, absurd interpretation of the provision of Disaster Management act, 2005.
    • Actions against the former Chief secretary is taken under Section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act for failing to comply with the Centre’s direction.
    • However, this section is meant to deal with cases of defiance of the lawful orders or action of the competent authorities under the Act for handling disaster management.
  • Lastly, the All-India service officer or any officer has to act under the direction of his official superior.
    • For an IAS officer, the State government is the official superior.
    • If this is not followed, there will be chaos and indiscipline in administration.

The conduct of the former chief secretary and the reaction of the Central government must be seen in an overall context. Also, in these kinds of circumstances, one needs to use the wisdom of our tall political leaders to maintain proper Political and administrative elements for a healthy federal polity.

Source: The Hindu

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