Kolkata, Jun 1 (PTI) Legal experts have expressed varied opinions on the Centre's decision to issue a show-cause notice to just-retired Bengal chief secretary Alapan Bandopadhyay, with some claiming that the move was 'untenable' and other stating that action can be initiated for apparent violation of service rules.
The Union Home Ministry has served a show-cause notice on Bandyopadhyay under a stringent provision of the Disaster Management Act that entails imprisonment up to two years, amid a tug-of-war between the Centre and the Mamata Banerjee government over him.
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 Centre in violation of Section 51-B of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Senior advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya contended that the 'show cause is not legally tenable'.
'Absence in a meeting does not in any way amounts to violation of the directions issued under the Disaster Management Act, therefore the show cause notice issued is not maintainable,' the CPI(M) leader, who had served as the advocate general of Tripura, said.
Bhattacharya, in his reaction to the development, was referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's post-cyclone review meeting, which the CM, accompanied by the bureaucreat, had skipped.
Countering him, lawyer Lokenath Chatterjee said that steps can be taken against a person who does not act in accordance with the provisions of the disaster management law 'More specifically, this is violation of his service rules and disaster management law. He skipped the meeting despite being told to do so by a superior authority,' he said.
Another lawyer, Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee, however, argued that there is no provision for issuance of a show-cause notice under section 51-B of the Disaster Management Act.
'The section provides for punishment following trial if there is violation of the Act, it has no provision of show-cause,' he said.
Former Additional Solicitor General of India Biswajit Bhattacharya, on his part, asserted that the procedure followed to serve the notice may not stand scrutiny in the courts of law.
'Neither the procedure under the Disaster Management Act nor the one enshrined in the All-India Services Act has been followed ... hence the whole process is ab initio void in the eyes of the law,' he added.
Bandopadhyay was set to retire on May 31, but the state had recently sought and received permission for extension of his tenure by three months as he played a crucial role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was, however, handed over a transfer directive by the Centre, shortly after a row broke out over the prime minister's post-cyclone review meeting, which the CM and state chief secretary did not attend.
The bureaucrat, instead of reporting to Delhi, chose to retire amid the Centre-state tussle. He was subsequently appointed as the CM's chief adviser.
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. PTI AMR JRC RMS RMS