If the President was as dedicated to the call of duty as the young suspended IAS officer, her ordeal would have ended expeditiously. His inaction, however, is eroding the rule of law, which provides the foundation for democracy, writes Rajinder Puri.
Possibly rising young political hope and UP Chief Minister CM Akhilesh Yadav has permanently damaged his future prospects by his brazen response to the controversy generated by the suspension of young IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal. The facts of the case are clear enough. These were widely disseminated by the media and aroused nationwide outrage.
Ms Nagpal, as a conscientious young Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) posted in Noida, became a thorn in the flesh of the illegal sand mining mafia raking in huge profits. Her role hurt a section of the ruling politicians. Therefore, the UP government suspended her. It justified its action by the allegation proved false that she was endangering communal harmony by forcibly demolishing the wall of a village mosque about to be constructed.
In fact, Ms Nagpal advised the villagers to seek the magistrate&’s permission before proceeding with the construction of the mosque, which otherwise could be deemed illegal. Unless official permission was granted, they were advised to suspend construction. The villagers heeded her advice and decided to abandon the project. They demolished the wall. Subsequently, villagers informed the media that Ms Nagpal had always been helpful to them and they had demolished the wall of their own volition.
Seizing this incident, the UP government manufactured its spurious allegation to swiftly suspend the officer. One MLA boasted on camera that he had persuaded the government to order her suspension within 40 minutes at midnight.
The procedure required for the government to order suspension was completely ignored. The suspension was ordered under instructions of the CM”s Principal Secretary, who a few years earlier had been imprisoned for involvement in a scam and is currently on bail pending appeal in the Supreme Court, but thanks to the UP government, occupies his key post.
He said: “Ms Nagpal&’s reinstatement is in the hands of the state government…it is the state government&’s decision.” The District Magistrate of the area had submitted his findings in a report completely exonerating Ms Nagpal. Not only has the UP government ignored that report, but its leaders are threatening to suspend the District Magistrate too. Influential Muslim organisations of the state have echoed the villagers by condemning the suspension and supporting Ms Nagpal. But a handful of influential ruling MLAs for electoral considerations and for protecting vested interests profiting from corruption prevailed over the CM.
Mr Akhilesh Yadav brazenly justified his action over TV channels. He possibly considers Muslim voters to be as stupid as some of his political colleagues who advise him. It will not be surprising if this incident, apart from fatally damaging the young chief minister&’s reputation, also costs his party Muslim votes in the next poll.
The central government is helpless unless the Chief Secretary of the state sends a report on the suspension, or if the suspended officer files a written appeal with the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). The young officer has not yet filed an appeal. After the central government sought a report from the UP government, the latter post haste filed a charge-sheet against Ms Nagpal. The officer has been given 15 days to file her reply. Unless the central government or the state government revokes the suspension, the only recourse for Ms Nagpal would be to approach the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) for redress. That would involve a long process.
The UP government sent a copy of the suspension order and the charge-sheet to the central government late last Sunday night. The UPA government is dependent on the state&’s ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) for support in Parliament to push through the crucial Food Security Bill, which is the Congress party&’s showpiece for the 2014 poll. The central government, therefore, is moving forward reluctantly under public pressure. To assuage public outrage, Mrs Sonia Gandhi had written a well-publicised letter to the Prime Minister seeking protection of the young officer. The letter was a meaningless and empty gesture.
Knowing the central government&’s helplessness and the Congress party&’s dependence on the SP in parliament, Mrs Gandhi wrote: “This particular incident has highlighted the need to assess whether there are adequate safeguards in place to protect executive functionaries working beyond the average call of duty to uphold the rule of law… without fear of favour.”
Unintended, the letter provoked the SP government. SP leaders taunted Mrs Gandhi by reminding her of her silence over suspensions of IAS officers in Haryana and Rajasthan similarly targeted for exposing the excesses of her son-in-law Mr Robert Vadra. Further, the SP announced that it would oppose the Food Security Bill in Parliament. This was the classic Indian political response.
The Congress was wrong, therefore the SP is justified to be wrong. Two wrongs make a right. The suggestion in Mrs Gandhi&’s letter that there is a lacuna in the system to deal with such situations was lapped up by the opposition and the media. This observation of course was utter nonsense. There is no lacuna in the system. There is huge amnesia among politicians. If the system is not worked, the system will not deliver.
If the system were to work as laid down in the Constitution, this is what could have been done. The President, under solemn oath to preserve and protect the Constitution and all laws, could not be ignorant about the UP government&’s suspected falsehoods to justify its action. The President could have directed the Governor to immediately send him a report on the situation. The Governor, similar to the President, is under oath to preserve and protect the Constitution and all laws at the state level. The Governor is not accountable to the Union Cabinet but to the President of India, according to a judgment of the Supreme Court. The Governor could have demanded an immediate report from the Chief Minister.
The District Magistrate&’s exoneration of Ms Nagpal and the government&’s violation of due procedure to suspend the officer provided sufficient evidence of the government&’s culpability. Article 160 of the Constitution states: “The President may make provision as he thinks fit for the discharge of the functions of the Governor of a state in any contingency.” The President is empowered to dismiss a State government and impose Governor&’s rule in the State. The UP government could have been issued an ultimatum by the Governor under the President&’s direction to immediately reinstate the officer or face dismissal. This entire exercise could have been completed within a week. Ms Durga Shakti Nagpal&’s ordeal would have expeditiously ended.
However, this would have been possible only if the President of India was as dedicated to the call of duty as the young suspended IAS officer. Such a response can only come from a President genuinely committed to his solemn oath of office and having the guts to take decisive action. Does not the President have the responsibility to protect the rights of all officials appointed by him? The President&’s inaction is as damaging as perverse action. Inexorably, it is eroding the rule of law, which provides the foundation for democracy.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist. He blogs at www.rajinderpuri.wordpress.com