Mamata defends decision to skip PM cyclone review meeting;asks centre to withdraw recall order of CS

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(Eds: adding detail) Kolkata, May 29 (PTI) A day after the row over cyclone Yaas review meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Saturday said she skipped the meeting taking exception to presence of the opposition leader and asked union government to withdraw its order recalling Chief Secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay to Delhi.

She alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah were trying to create problems for her government at every step as they were yet to come to terms with the BJP's defeat in the assembly elections.

Banerjee said she was ready to touch Modi's feet if told to do so for the sake of West Bengal's growth and development.

'Because you (Modi and Shah) cannot digest BJP's defeat in (Bengal), you have started creating problems for us from day one. What is the fault of the chief secretary? 'Recalling the chief secretary amid the COVID crisis goes on to show that the centre was indulging in political vendetta,' the feisty TMC supremo asserted.

Caught in the crossfire between the state government and the centre, the chief secretary attended the duty Saturday and accompanied the chief minister at an aerial survey of the cyclone-ravaged Purba Medinipur.

'The meeting was earlier between PM-CM and later I found in the revised programme it was the big BJP party and me alone.

'Why weren't the opposition leaders in Gujarat and Odisha called for meetings during the PM's visit to those states on cyclone,' she questioned.

'I had thought that the PM had landed in a state and we had met him as per the constitutional obligation and courtesy.

But, later it spiralled into a controversy and there are several leaders of the ruling party who kept on tweeting to tarnish my and my CS's image,' Banerjee said.

'If the PM asks me to touch his feet to help Bengal, I am ready to do that, but please do not insult, humiliate me like this. I have no problem.

'I appeal to you to end this political vendetta, withdraw this letter (calling back CS); allow him to work for COVID- infected people, Cyclone-affected people. We are working like a team and we want to continue that,' Banerjee said at a virtual press conference.

She said when everybody in her government is fighting against COVID-19, the central government instead of helping them, was creating all sorts of problems for the West Bengal.

Banerjee also questioned whether the centre was against the chief secretary because he was a 'Bengali'.

'It seems that they are only upto defaming the state government. Why are they after Bengal? Are they doing it because our chief secretary is a Bengali?,' she questioned.

Referring to the state's former chief secretary Rajiva Sinha, a non-Bengali,Banerjee said that she is not interested in playing the 'Bengali and non-Bengali' politics as she never gave priority to that while choosing a person for the chief secretary's post.

'We have so many officers from Bengal working in Delhi, then should we call them back? There should be a minimum courtesy, minimum Constitutional understanding so that the Centre and the state can work in tandem,' she stated.

West Bengal CS Alapan Bandyopadhyay, who is scheduled to retire on May 31, had recently got an extension for three months on request of the state government.

Flashing the letter where Bandyopadhyay was granted extension for three months by the Centre after the state government's request, Banerjee described the chief secretary as an officer of the state.

She said that the state government was not consulted prior to calling the CS back to New Delhi in a letter sent Friday late evening.

'Instead of cooperation, when I was in Digha busy reviewing the cyclone-affected areas, I was shocked to receive a letter from the centre regarding requisitioning services of CS. You must not forget that a CS is a state government officer.

'May be they come from the central pools, but after the Sarkaria Commissions and other commissions they are state government officers who work for the state fully.

'Now CS, you gave notice without any consultation that we want requisition. This is unconstitutional and illegal decisioin. He is retiring on May 31, don't you not have any courtesy,' she said.

Banerjee alleged that the central government by doing this was creating problems 'not only for her government but also for her secretaries'.

She said in sending the recall letter to Bandyopadhyay, the Modi government has actually insulted all the IAS officers of the country who are 'shocked' by the incident.

The Bengal CM also said that she had hoped to solve this 'problem' by talking it out with the centre but she was informed that the central government has filed caveats in Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and Calcutta High Court with regard to the transfer of Bandyopadhyay to Department of Personnel and Training in New Delhi.

She said that her government might explore legal options with regard to Bandyopadhyay's transfer.

Though she absented herself from the review meeting, Banerjee had met Modi the previous day and handed over to him reports Seeking Rs 20,000 crore for the damages caused by severe cyclonic storm Yaas on Wednesday. PTI SCH SNS SNS