The Union home ministry late on Monday issued a notice to former West Bengal chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay under the Disaster Management Act for failing to comply with the Centre’s directions to attend the review meeting on Cyclone Yaas chaired by PM Modi in Bengal’s Kalaikunda last week.
Government sources said the “offence” under Section 51(b) of the DM Act entails criminal action and provides for a maximum one-year jail term upon conviction. The move, which is likely to escalate tensions between the Centre and CM Mamata Banerjee, saw MHA seeking an explanation “in writing” from the ex-bureaucrat within three days, as to why action should not be taken against him for violating the DM Act.
Sources indicated if his explanation is not found satisfactory, registration of a criminal case could be the next course of action. Pointing to Section 51 of the DM Act, 2005, which lays down penalties for those who refuse, without reasonable cause, to comply with a direction given on behalf of the Centre or national executive committee (apex body for disaster management), the notice said Bandyopadhyay had disobeyed binding directions.
“By this act of abstaining himself (Bandhyopadyay) from the review meeting taken by the prime minister, who is also the chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)… has acted in a manner tantamount to refusing to comply with lawful directions of the central government” and had thus violated Section 51(b) of the DM Act, the notice said.
On reaching Kalaikunda Air Force station for the scheduled review with the chief minister and chief secretary, the PM waited for 15 minutes in the meeting room for officers of the state government to arrive. “In view of the absence, 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 inside the meeting room and left thereafter immediately,” the notice said.
An offence under Section 51 may see maximum jail term extended to two years where the refusal to comply with directions has resulted in loss of lives or imminent danger thereof.
Officials in Kolkata indicated that “a proper reply to this would be sent in due time”. The original meeting between the PM and the CM was not convened under the disaster management law, they added. The Bengal CM, in a five-page letter to PM Modi on Monday, had mentioned that any causal link between the “unconstitutional, unprecedented, vindictive” transfer and the Kalaikunda developments would be “sacrificing public interest at the altar of misplaced priorities”.
Neither the Bengal government nor Bandyopadhyay reacted to the notice on Tuesday. Former state chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee said Bandyopadhyay would have to “take legal advice and reply to this himself”. “But this is not related to his service conditions and should be dealt with separately,” he added.
Meanwhile, TOI has learnt that the department of personnel and training (DoPT), to whom Bandyopadhyay was directed to report first on Monday and then on Tuesday, may not initiate disciplinary action since he retired on Monday, making the order asking him to report to DoPT for placement of his services at the Centre, null and void.