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Central govt’s modus operandi in Alapan case reeks of malafides, Calcutta HC order says

HC says CAT order to unilaterally transfer petition by Bengal’s ex-chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay to principal bench ‘shocks judicial conscience’.

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Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court Friday took strong exception to the decision of the Central Administrative Tribunal’s Kolkata bench to unilaterally transfer a petition filed by West Bengal’s former chief secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay to the principal bench in the national capital.

In a strongly-worded 18-page order, a HC division bench of Justices Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya and Rabindranath Samanta said the CAT order “shocks the judicial conscience”. It added that the Government of India’s modus operandi “reeks of mala fides”.

The HC set aside the Kolkata bench’s transfer order and asked it to settle the case expeditiously.

The order came three days after Bandyopadhyay, who is now the principal adviser to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, challenged the CAT Kolkata bench’s 22 October order to transfer his petition to the principal bench.

As reported first by ThePrint, Bandyopadhyay had moved CAT on 8 October, questioning the jurisdiction of the Government of India in initiating disciplinary action against him.

However, on 13 October, the Narendra Modi government appointed a retired IAS officer senior to Bandyopadhyay as the inquiry officer in the case. A week later, the central government filed a petition to transfer the case to the CAT principal bench. The petition was disposed of immediately.

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What the court said

In its order Friday, the Calcutta High Court noted the “alacrity” with which the case was handled.

“The transfer petition was filed on October 20, 2021 and was disposed of on October 22, 2021, with less than 24 hours’ notice to the writ petitioner, who lives far off from the Principal Seat at New Delhi, upon refusing even a meaningful, let alone adequate, opportunity of hearing or notice to the opposite party, that is, the present writ petitioner (Bandyopadhyay). This shocks the judicial conscience, to say the least,” the order said.

“The extreme alacrity of the Principal Bench did not stop here, but it went on to hear out and dispose of the entire transfer petition finally, on merits, on the very next day, by refusing to grant the present writ petitioner reasonable time to come ready with a comprehensive objection, arguments and appropriate citations,” the court said.

“Promptness is appreciated, but overzealousness to cater to the fiat of the Government, be it Central or State, is not, by courts of law, a tradition,” it added.

The HC also came down heavily on the Modi government.

“The entire modus operandi adopted by the Union of India reeks of mala fides. It is unfortunate that the Principal Bench of the CAT nurtured such efforts by passing the impugned transfer order, thereby paying obeisance to the diktat of the Union of India…” the court added.

Speaking to ThePrint after the court order, Bandyopadhyay’s counsel Debanjan Mandal expressed hope. “We are hopeful that the judicial and quasi judicial processes in the Country will render justice,” he said. 

Tussle between Bengal and Modi govt over Alapan

Former IAS officer Alapan Bandyopadhyay got embroiled in a Centre-West Bengal tussle in May this year.

On 28 May, the civil servant, along with CM Mamata Banerjee, was not present to receive PM Modi at the Kalaikunda airbase in West Midnapore. Later in the day, the PM led a review meeting to assess the damage caused by Cyclone Yaas. The CM left the meeting after a brief discussion with the PM, and the chief secretary is believed to have followed her.

A row erupted within hours. The Department of Personnel and Training directed Bandyopadhyay to report in the national capital. However, Bandyopadhyay was not released by the state government and could not comply. He retired on 31 May.

The Modi government then initiated disciplinary action against him, serving him with a major penalty chargesheet on 16 June.

Banerjee appointed him as the principal advisor to her government immediately after he retired. 

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

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