Capital tussle

Print edition : February 19, 2016

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia at a press conference in New Delhi on January 25. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Delhi Secretariat. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

The stand-off between the Delhi government and the Centre over the suspension of DANICS officers has led to an administrative gridlock.

Senior administrative officers going on mass protest leave is something unheard of, but on December 31, 2015, around 200 officers belonging to both the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Delhi and Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Services (DANICS) cadres did exactly that in Delhi. They proceeded on a day’s mass leave in protest against the suspension of two colleagues in the Delhi government’s Home Department who had refused to sign on orders issued by the Delhi government increasing the salaries of public prosecutors and the fees for retainership because the order had not been approved by the Lieutenant Governor (LG).

Subhash Chandra and Yashpal Garg had refused to sign the order issued by Delhi Home Minister Satyendra Jain on December 29 as it did not have the approval of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which controls a lot of administration in Delhi and conveys its decision to the Delhi government through the LG. The Delhi government suspended the two officers on December 30, triggering the mass protest leave by DANICS cadre officers, who were joined by their IAS counterparts.

DANICS is a Group B Central civil services cadre. Candidates come into this service through the examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission. These officers are supposed to manage the administration of Delhi and the Union Territories.

The MHA is their controlling authority, which means that the Delhi government does not have the power to either recruit or suspend them. But the unique nature of Delhi, which is only half a State, gives rise to complications, especially since the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government claims complete control over its officers while the Centre refuses to cede ground.

This jostle for power has resulted in problems in the past too, but the latest incident has acquired a new dimension because it triggered a chain reaction. On January 1, the MHA, declaring the suspension order null and void, directed the Delhi government to revoke the suspension of the DANICS officers. The Delhi government, however, refused to do so. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia wrote a letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh stating that the Delhi government would not implement the Centre’s order overturning the suspension of the two officers as doing so would lead to “widespread indiscipline, insubordination and a state of complete paralysis”. He said the Delhi Home Minister was “superior” to the special secretaries working under him and therefore had “lawful power” to place them under suspension.

“Implementing [the] MHA’s order will seriously undermine the authority of an elected government” and would be prejudicial to the public interest, he said in the letter.

Sisodia said revoking the suspension would lead to “anarchy and sabotage” of the functioning of a democratically elected government by the bureaucracy. “It may also be seen that communication from [the] MHA is merely a letter and not an order of the President of India,” he added.

He also cited an earlier MHA directive under which a government servant may be placed under suspension and quoted Rule 14(2) of the Transaction of Business Rules to reiterate his point. He further said that the matter was placed twice before the LG and that he had never said he was in disagreement with the proposal.

“He only raised the issue of competence of [the] Council of Ministers to take this decision without the approval of the MHA, which is sub judice,” the letter said.

The bitterness between the Delhi government and the Centre became further visible when Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that the IAS and DANICS officers were the “full-fledged B teams of the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party]”.

In a series of tweets, he wrote: “People will be very happy if these officers go on long leave. Government ready to give paid leave. Governance will become honest, smooth and efficient.” He added that the government was exploring “all options” against the officers. He also said that the time had come to replace bureaucrats with professionals and sector experts to infuse fresh energy and ideas into governance.

Tug of war

The tug of war has led to a piquant situation, wherein the Delhi government has barred Subhash Chandra and Yaspal Garg from performing their duties, while the MHA treats them “as on duty”. This, in effect, means that the two officers cannot go to office but are “on duty” and will therefore continue to draw their salary and perks while not doing any work.

“As far as we are concerned, the two officers continue to be on duty. Their being suspended by the Delhi government is of no relevance because the Delhi government does not have the power to suspend them in the first place,” said a senior MHA official in charge of Union Territory affairs. He added that the Home Ministry had not taken note of the mass protest leave because “they only took a day’s casual leave which they are within their right to avail”.

“This is definitely an administrative crisis, if not a constitutional crisis,” said Sanjay Bhoosreddy, secretary of the Central IAS Association. “Such instances have a demoralising effect on officers as a whole. While it may not affect the Ministers concerned, work suffers, people suffer,” he added. But it is also obvious that despite the hue and cry about the stand-off, Kejriwal is in no mood to back off. Even as the slugfest between him and the MHA was going on, he took another decision that might land him in another controversy.

On January 6, the Delhi government decided to hike the salaries of the Delhi Administrative Subordinate Services (DASS) officers and introduced higher grades for them by including a “selection grade” clause in their promotion framework. This has apparently been done to prevent these officials from joining hands with DANICS and IAS officers in their ongoing protest. However, even this decision is set to run into trouble with the Centre as it does not have the approval of the MHA. In a similar move in September last year, the Delhi government decided to hike the salaries of DANICS officers without seeking the Centre’s approval and had to finally abandon the proposal.

With both the governments unwilling to cede ground, the people in Delhi are suffering because the stand-off has affected routine work such as distribution of salaries to safai karmacharis, schoolteachers, etc., and old age, widow and disability pensions.

“People are suffering but there is nothing that we can do. People have to suffer him and hopefully by the time he completes his term people would have learnt their lesson. They would know who to put in the driver’s seat,” said BJP MLA Om Prakash Sharma.

Even though there seems to be no end in sight to the continuous jousting between the Delhi government and the Centre, the matter has reached the Delhi High Court through a public interest litigation petition filed by Indu Prakash, who has requested the court to take action against the IAS and DANICS officers who went on leave as, according to the petition, it was a violation of their service rules. The petition comes up for hearing on January 27.

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