POLITICS
22/06/2018 10:35 AM IST | Updated 23/06/2018 8:56 AM IST

AAP-IAS Row: Delhi's Former Chief Secretary Recalls The Power Struggle With P. Chidambaram's Home Ministry

"The governance of Delhi cannot be a casualty at the altar of postings and transfers."

Courtesy PK Tripathi

NEW DELHI -- The trigger, officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in Delhi say, was the alleged assault on Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) lawmakers at the residence of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on February 9.

But there are many who see the response of the IAS officers, to not have one-on-one meetings with Delhi ministers, as being completely out of character with the ethos of the civil service as well as a tacit backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre against the AAP government in Delhi.

Kejriwal, has accused the Modi government of using the Lieutenant Governor's (LG) office in Delhi to transfer key officials, harass his ministers and stall the work of the AAP government since it was sworn in three years ago. The chief minister was, until Thursday, camped in the waiting room of LG Anil Baijal, protesting against what he called a "strike" by the IAS officers.

In this context, HuffPost India spoke with P.K. Tripathi, a former chief secretary of Delhi, about the power struggle between the LG and the CM, the many rows he had with the Home Ministry under P. Chidambaram, and if the IAS officers in Delhi went too far in opposing Kejriwal.

Although Tripathi served under the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government in Delhi, with a Congress at the Centre, the bureaucrat says that governing the national capital is fraught with conflict and challenges.

Excerpts:

Why is there a power struggle between the LG and CM of Delhi?

The power struggle is built into the system itself. On the one hand, you have the Lieutenant Governor, who is a representative of the central government and who is defined as the "government" in various Acts. On the other hand, you have an elected chief minister, naturally aspiring to lead the government and do things for the city. The conflict is something inherent. It can only be transcended if both the CM and the LG are very mature people who look beyond their powers and egos. Since the LG is a constitutional position, the chief minister has to be very prudent, he has to take the LG along because the CM is the one who is ultimately responsible to the people.

When you say 'built into the system,' you mean the NCT Act (The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act)?

Yes, in the NCT Act and various orders issued, the "government" has been defined as the Lieutenant Governor. All files have to go to the Lieutenant Governor for approval. The only way for things to work out between the Chief Minister and the Lieutenant Governor is through human relations. There is no room for scoring points if we are truly invested in improving Delhi.

Who takes precedence - the LG or the CM?

The LG takes precedence. There is no doubt about it. The chief secretary to convince the CM that something should not be rejected just because the LG is saying so. You have to convince the LG that what the CM is saying is public motivated and it is not political.

Who is the chief secretary more loyal to?

The chief secretary has to be more loyal to the elected government.

There is no room for scoring points if we are truly invested in improving Delhi.

How was your tenure as the chief secretary of Delhi?

It is not just my tenure. The chief secretary in Delhi plays a very important role because there is a divided government. There are subjects that are reserved for the Lieutenant Governor like law and order, service, police and land. The chief secretary is the chief secretary to both the Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Minister and must act as a bridge.

Can you give an example of bridge building?

The LG has the DDA (Delhi Development Authority) and the Delhi government is always short for the land. We have to beg the DDA for land and sometimes even the DDA does not have land, but there is a lot of land in the Gaon Sabha. So, I started moving proposals for the allotment of land for school and hospitals on Gaon Sabha land. The LG was agreeing to it until the DDA pointed out to him that if you agree to these proposals then there will no local area plan developed for a particular village and he stopped the allotments.

Then, I argued with him that if you go for a local area plan, it will take a few years to make it, but can you imagine any community that will not require a school or a hospital or water supply or power. And he agreed that for these four things, he would not agree with the DDA, he would continue allotting land, and the local area plans would be made in accordance to the land which has already been developed. So, there is a way out.

READ: Why The IAS-AAP Standoff Could Change The Civil Service Forever

There are many people who believe that the BJP government at the Centre is making it difficult for the AAP government to function.

That is one narrative. But what we have seen in Delhi in the past, when the Delhi government was Congress and the BJP was at the Centre, they were totally in sync. It was the smoothest five years. When the Congress was both at the Centre and in Delhi, there were problems. It all depends upon personalities and perceptions. The chief minister of Delhi has to understand that you are not a full CM, you need the cooperation of the Centre and of the various ministries, and you have to convince them.

It all depend upon personalities and perceptions.

What were the instances when the Centre and Delhi government were not in agreement during your tenure?

We wanted to remove all the Fair Price Shops in Delhi because everyone knows they are corrupt. The answer was direct cash transfer in the name of the lady of the house. We went to the Planning Commission and we argued out that we would like to do it. The Centre said that first you carry out a study, so we went to SEWA, the study proved that people would prefer it in Delhi, not for India, but in Delhi, where there is no shortage of food. If you are able to give money directly to the lady of the house and she has the freedom to purchase from wherever she likes, it solves a lot of problems, it roots out corruption.

But the Congress government (at the Centre) said that we have to look at the social dimension, the woman may get beaten up, the husband with the income might beat her up. So, it went through all these motions, but it never saw the light of the day

Nothing came of it at all?

When Mr. Jaipal Reddy became the minister, he understood, and we finished kerosene in fair price ships in Delhi. We gave gas chullahs and gas connections to Below Poverty Line families. But there were many other instances when the government did not respond to us.

What causes the most friction between the Centre and the Delhi government?

Manpower is a very important issue. You must have a set of competent people who are allowed to stay in Delhi. Of course, they must go to outlying areas also, but you must follow a rational policy. If you are interested in somebody, you allow him to stay, but somebody else, you transfer out. Even the chief minister's office staff was transferred without consulting her. I was the principal secretary at the time, but the secretary to the CM was transferred, the additional secretary to the CM, were transferred.

What did the CM (Sheila Dikshit) do?

The CM was finding it difficult to govern. Every day, your main officer gets transferred. Naturally, she was distressed. She went and met the Home Minister, explained to him, we have to govern Delhi, you cannot make polices that make Delhi ungovernable.

The CM was finding it difficult to govern.

What were the issues you faced with Mr. Chidambaram when he was Home Minister?

They (Home Ministry) would not listen. They would come up with brazen polices which would be totally difficult to implement. Later on, I had to have one-on-ones with Chidambaram in which I said you have to look at the governance of Delhi when it comes to transfers of officers. You cannot have a policy that treats Delhi like a platform where officers are available for shunting between two places. We had to go right up to Chidambaram, several times, which was a waste of time for him and for us.

That must have been frustrating?

It was very difficult. The chief secretary has to do development work, think of new policies, but if you are stuck arguing for days about transfers, it is a tremendous waste of time.

Can you give examples of the problem with transfers?

For example, you transfer 20 people at one go, disturbing the whole administration. The governance of Delhi cannot be a casualty at the altar of postings and transfers. They said that we will bring persons promoted to IAS from Arunachal Pradesh to Delhi. Fine, but you cannot bring officers from Arunachal, Mizoram or Goa, when they are 58-years-old. Bring them at the age of 40. How will they govern Delhi? They don't understand Delhi and Delhi governance is complex. We wondered why we had to argue when it was so self-evident. It was not in good taste. Now, they have made a joint committee of chief secretaries in which all this is discussed.

The governance of Delhi cannot be a casualty at the altar of postings and transfers.

Were there any big fails?

Many things could not get done. Like the water from Haryana, we constructed the Munak canal, we put all 500-600 crores of money into it and then Haryana refused to give water. It was Congress at the Centre, Congress in Haryana and Congress in Delhi, but it could not be resolved.

How was it resolved?

When you had a BJP government in Haryana, a BJP government at the Centre and the AAP government in Delhi, then the problem was resolved. Mr. Hooda of the Congress never released water, but Mr. Khattar of the BJP released the water, but the AAP government has never acknowledged it. To say that the BJP alone is creating a problem is not correct. When Congress was in all three places, we went right to the Prime Minister's Office, we went to Mr. Chidambaram, they could do nothing.

In the recent standoff between the AAP government and the IAS officers, there are sections that believe the IAS officers are backing the BJP against AAP.

IAS officers have a long career. They have to face several governments. The BJP is not there for all times to come so why should IAS officers do the bidding of the BJP. For 15 years, the Congress was there, were we doing the bidding of Congress? No. That is why you have a civil service that is apolitical. The role of the civil service to give advice. The CM can overrule the bureaucracy, but he should have the guts to overrule the bureaucracy. He should not have the bureaucracy write something they don't agree with.

The matter of the chief secretary is being investigated by the police. There are sections that believe the response of the IAS officers simply went too far.

If you beat somebody and that is not enough then I don't know what it is to go too far. That means the chief secretary can be beheaded and then only you can protest. Has any other chief secretary ever been beaten in independent India. It was the first time and too in the presence of the chief minister. It was an unprecedented action that got an unprecedented reaction. The officers are not happy about it. You only defy when you find there is no other way out and any more submission will only be misunderstood.

It was an unprecedented action that got an unprecedented reaction.

But wasn't the press conference out of character with the civil service?

Earlier, prime ministers and chief ministers were not tweeting every day. Now, the prime minister tweets, the chief minister tweets, only bureaucrats don't tweet. The press conference was necessary because only a one-sided projection from the AAP side twas coming. Everyone was feeling that only the IAS officers were at fault. It was necessary to clear public perception.

Should Delhi be given statehood?

It can't be. It would be foolish. So many committees have come and have made various suggestions and none have worked. Delhi is the capital. We had argued at one point of time that the police have to remain with the central government, but the traffic police can be given to the Delhi government because traffic is a municipal function. Delhi should be given more control over the municipal corporations. Why should licensing be with the police? The licensing department should come to the Delhi government. Delhi government should have some say in land use planning. These are the areas where more flexibility and more autonomy are required.

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