New Delhi: It was a complaint from the Arvind Kejriwal administration that led the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to take action against four Delhi government officials, including three IAS officers, for their alleged role in the surge of migrants at the Anand Vihar bus terminal this weekend, ThePrint has learnt.
The central government had Sunday suspended Additional Chief Secretary (Transport Department) Renu Sharma and Principal Secretary (Finance) Rajiv Verma, and issued showcase notices to Additional Chief Secretary (Home and Land Buildings departments) Satya Gopal and Seelampur Subdivisional Magistrate (SDM) Ajay Kumar Arora for dereliction of duty and failing to “ensure public health and safety” during the lockdown to combat Covid-19.
According to a senior officer in the central government, a Delhi minister had approached the MHA early Sunday with a complaint against the officials, following which action was taken.
The minister, the officer said, had complained that the officers “independently made the decision to arrange buses for migrants”. This, the officer added, did not go down well with “the Delhi government leadership”.
“We received a complaint and we acted upon it. Since the officers are from the UT (union territory) cadre, only the Centre is authorised to take any disciplinary action against them,” the officer said. “They were found to be at fault and so the direction was issued.”
While Sharma, Verma and Gopal are IAS officers, Arora is a member of the Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Civil Service (DANICS).
Chaos in the capital
The Modi government announced a sudden lockdown last week to enforce strict social distancing in a bid to check the spread of Covid-19, a highly-infectious disease that has killed over 30 people in India so far. In an unprecedented decision, all public transport, including buses and trains, was suspended.
However, the decision seemed to backfire as thousands of migrants, rendered jobless and homeless by the shutdown of businesses and markets in cities, began the journey back to their villages on foot.
To help out the migrants, both Delhi and Uttar Pradesh governments Saturday arranged buses to ferry them to their destinations.
But the chaos didn’t subside. Images from later in the evening showed a sea of migrants at the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal on the UP-Delhi border, an occurrence that constituted a Covid-19 hazard and could have possibly caused a law-and-order problem.
The claim that the Delhi government sees the officers as having acted unilaterally stands in contrast with statements issued by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who said on the record Saturday that the administration was arranging buses to ferry the migrants to the Delhi borders.
To add to the uncertainty around the episode, the Kejriwal administration, which is generally vocal about decisions taken by the central government or the lieutenant governor regarding the union territory’s civil servants, has maintained silence on the four officials.
ThePrint reached Sisodia and the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) through calls and messages for a comment about the central government’s action against the four officials, but couldn’t get one. Sisodia was unreachable and the CMO refused to comment.
Delhi govt ‘didn’t issue orders’
Officials in the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) told ThePrint that the buses were arranged in line with instructions from the Delhi transport department, which is headed by Renu Sharma. The department is overseen by transport minister Kailash Gahlot, who did not revert to requests for comment.
“We don’t do anything at our own will, we received instructions,” a DTC official said.
When asked who had issued the instructions, the official said, “We come under the transport department and our communication is only with them.”
Officials in the Delhi government, meanwhile, appeared to distance themselves from the order. “The order that the Delhi government gave was only for workers in the essential services, not to ferry all migrant workers to their villages,” a Delhi government official said, referring to lockdown exemptions allowed for DTC buses to help maintain essential services.
‘Didn’t do their job right’
Asked about the individual charges against each officer, multiple sources in the Delhi government said Sharma was suspended for her go-ahead to the DTC to arrange buses, while Verma was punished for allegedly failing to assure the migrants that they would be given all essentials and that they need not leave Delhi.
“Verma’s job is to keep migrants and other people indoors and ensure they get proper food and other amenities, which he did not do well,” one of the sources said.
“His job was to coordinate with all district magistrates, who report to him, and ensure that migrants are assured that they will keep getting items of daily needs,” the source added.
Satya Gopal was issued a showcause notice, the sources said, as he did not apprise the Delhi government of the potential law-and-order problem that was emerging.
“He deals with the home department and was responsible for informing the government in case of any law and order situation during the lockdown, which he failed to do,” one of the sources added.
It is still unclear why Arora was given a showcause notice, the sources said. “Anand Vihar, where the crowd gathered, falls in the east district while Ajay Arora is in charge of the northeast district,” said yet another source.
According to the source, what irked the government further was that the two officials “did not step up to prevent the crisis and instead stayed put inside their offices”.
ThePrint reached the four officers for comment, but didn’t get any. While Renu Sharma said over the phone that she did not want to comment, Verma did not respond to calls. Arora and Gopal could not be contacted.
‘Central govt unhappy’
Meanwhile, sources in Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal’s office said the central government was “extremely unhappy” about the situation in Delhi over the weekend, especially the crowding of migrant labourers at Anand Vihar.
As the representative of the central government in Delhi, Baijal shares a role in Delhi’s administration with the elected government.
Sources in the Delhi government confirmed that the LG had written to Kejriwal to express his concerns about “mismanagement”.
The LG was also not taken into confidence when the Kejriwal administration decided last week to increase the number of buses on roads from 20 per cent to 50 per cent of the fleet, ThePrint has learnt.
The day after the four officials were taken action against, the LG directed all district magistrates, deputy commissioners of police and other officers to ensure strict enforcement of the lockdown.