The rope of federalism and an unwanted tug-of-war
CONTEXT There has been ongoing tussle between centre and state government of Bengal, which deserves our attention for the future health of our federal polity.
- The issue was over the conduct of the former Chief Secretary of Bengal.
- The issue pertains to a meeting called by the Prime Minister to review cyclone Yaas relief work in West Bengal that became a flashpoint.
- There are allegations that the Chief Secretary reached late in the meeting and then left abruptly along with the West Bengal Chief Minister to visit the cyclone-affected areas.
- This conduct of the Chief Secretary is seen to be against the civil service conduct.
- Also, there are other issues involved, like political and administrative arrogance and revengeful behaviour.
- New Delhi has taken cognisance of this behaviour and has sent show cause notices and a charge sheet for failure in fully and properly participating in the meeting called by the Prime Minister in West Bengal for cyclone relief review.
ISSUE INVOLVED WITH THE INCIDENT
- Centre has initiated action against the Chief Secretary of Bengal under Section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act for failing to comply with the Centre’s direction to attend the review meeting taken by the Prime Minister.
- This is problematic because it is an absurd interpretation of the provision that is meant to deal with cases of defiance of the lawful orders or action of the competent authorities.
- Besides, Chief Minister being the administrative boss of the chief secretary of the state, it is obvious that in the performance of his official duties, an All-India service officer, or any officer for that matter, will have to act under the direction of his official superior otherwise, there will be chaos and indiscipline in administration.
CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPLES THAT ARE AT WORK
- The Center should understand that although India is a “union of states”, this does not mean that State governments are subordinate agencies of the central government.
- It is true that Centre’s decisions have primacy over those of the State governments matters enunciated in our Constitution. However, this does not extend to holding of meetings, even if these are called by the Prime Minister.
- Although a State’s functionaries, both political and administrative — are requested or advised to attend such meetings and this necessitates courtesy and consideration on the part of both sides.
- Also, the center should maintain a fine balance of All India Service.
- IAS provide uniformity and high standards of public service in both the Centre and the States.
- To maintain quality, IAS officers are recruited by the Union Public Service Commission and formally appointed by the President of India.
- They are ultimately borne in State cadres which makes them subject to the control of the respective State governments as well.
- This ensures that dual control is maintained and the trust in IAS is there for both centre and state.
- Centre needs to give up its high handedness. It should understand that although they are final authority, “concurrence” of the relevant State government is required before an officer of its cadre is deputed to the Centre.
- There must be prior consultation between the Centre and the State for the latter’s viewpoint to be overruled.
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