NEW DELHI: The row between the Centre and the West Bengal government intensified after the Union Home Ministry served a show-cause notice to the state's former chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay under a stringent provision of the Disaster Management Act that entails imprisonment up to two years.
A home ministry official said that hours before Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced his retirement on Monday, Bandyopadhyay was served the notice for refusing to comply with lawful direction of the central government in violation of Section 51-B of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
The officer has been asked to reply within three days to the notice, the official said.
It was stated in the notice that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his entourage after reaching the Kalaikunda air force station waited for 15 minutes for the officers of the state government to arrive.
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 the chief secretary arrived along with the chief minister inside the room and left immediately.
"In view of this act of abstaining himself from the review meeting taken by the Prime Minister, who is also the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, the chief secretary has acted in a manner tantamount to refusing to comply with lawful direction of the central government and thus violative of Section 51(b) of the Disaster Management Act 2005," it said.
Bandyopadhyay, a 1987-batch IAS officer who was due to retire on May 31, was given an extension of three months and days later asked to report at the Centre.
However, Banerjee announced his retirement on Monday and appointed him as the chief advisor to the state government.
According to Section 51 (b), whosoever refuses to comply with any direction given by or on behalf of the central government or the state government or the National Executive Committee or the State Executive Committee or the District Authority under this Act, shall on conviction be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both.
"And if such obstruction or refusal to comply with directions results in loss of lives or imminent danger thereof, shall on conviction be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years...," the Act says.
The Union Home Secretary is the chairman of the national executive committee under the DM Act which is currently in force due to the COVID pandemic.
The COVID-19 lockdown measures have been implemented under the Disaster Management Act.
The retired IAS officer has been asked to explain in writing to the home ministry within three days why action should be taken against him under the provisions of the Act.
Bandyopadhyay is also facing heat from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), cadre controlling ministry for IAS officers, which had asked him twice to appear for his further duty to the central government in Delhi by Monday and again on Tuesday.
However, he did not come to the capital and chose to retire, instead of accepting a three-month extension sanctioned to him by the state and central government.
Chief Minister Banerjee had alleged that the officer was targeted by the central government due to a "political vendetta".
Reacting sharply to the notice, the ruling Trinamool Congress claimed that the Centre was wreaking vengeance on the West Bengal government and said the notice sent to Bandyopadhyay was an "illegal" move.
TMC Rajya Sabha MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy contended that the notice, invoking section 51 (b) of the Disaster Management Act, was "void", and said that the question of violation of any provision does not arise.
"Show Cause Notice served upon former Chief Secretary of Bengal is void ab initio in as much as no direction was issued to him under Sec 51(a) or(b) of the Disaster Management Act.
As such the question of violation thereof does not arise. Stop such blatant acts of vengeance," he tweeted.
Opposition leader in the West Bengal assembly, BJP's Suvendu Adhikari, however, sought the strictest action against Bandopadhyay for "indiscipline and violation of rules".
"I demand the strictest action be taken against the outgoing CS for indiscipline, violating service rules at a time of a natural disaster and a global pandemic, irregularities, and not helping others just because of sinister political games.
TMC has failed the people of West Bengal," the BJP leader tweeted.
Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Pradip Bhattacharya, on his part, said the chief secretary is a victim of circumstances in the midst of the tussle between the Centre and the state government.
Different interpretations can be made out of the episode that preceded Bandopadhyay's recall order, his subsequent retirement, and everything that followed, he said.
"Alapan Bandopadhyay is a victim of circumstances, this is not desirable.
It may apparently seem that more importance should be given to the prime minister than the chief minister, but since the chief secretary is responsible for the affairs of the state, it does not seem that he has done anything wrong by toeing the chief minister's line," Bhattacharya said.