West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday asserted that her administration will stand by Alapan Bandyopadhyay in the tussle with the central government which has seen the former chief secretary of the state being recalled to Delhi and later served a notice by the Union Home Ministry for allegedly violating the Disaster Management Act, by not attending a meeting called by the prime minister.
The chief minister also claimed the controversy was now a 'closed chapter', though she did not explain how, since the officer who chose to retire on Monday faces possible criminal action by the Centre for his alleged violation of the stringent Disaster Management Act (DMA).
"Alapan Bandyopadhyay chapter is over now. The West Bengal government will give full support to Alapan Bandyopadhyay in whatever is going on with him," Banerjee told reporters when asked about her government's stance on the controversy.
Bandyopadhyay, a 1987-batch Indian Administrative Service officer of West Bengal cadre, was set to retire on May 31, but the state had sought and last month received permission to extend his tenure as chief secretary by three months as he was heading West Bengal's efforts to combat a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was, however, sent a directive to report to North Bloc in Delhi by the Centre, shortly after a row broke out over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's post-cyclone review meeting with Banerjee on May 28.
The chief minister chose to meet the Prime Minister for just 15 minutes instead of a longer planned review meeting, upset that her former aide, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Suvendu Adhikari too had been called for the meeting at Kalaikunda airbase to review the damage wrought by cyclone 'Yaas'.
The bureaucrat, instead of reporting to Delhi, chose to retire amid the Centre-state tussle. He was subsequently appointed as the CM's chief adviser.
The Union home ministry then served a show-cause notice on Bandyopadhyay under a stringent provision of the DMA that entails imprisonment up to two years.
A home ministry official said that hours before the CM announced his retirement on May 31, Bandyopadhyay was served the notice for refusing to comply with lawful direction of the Centre in violation of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Bandyopadhyay has started working as chief adviser to the state and was present at Wednesday's meeting of the state Irrigation department presided over by Banerjee.
Trinamool Congress youth wing president Abhishek Banerjee on Wednesday alleged that the BJP-led central government's move against Bandyopadhyay showed the vindictive attitude of the saffron party towards West Bengal.
If action is taken against the former chief secretary under the Disaster Management Act, the same law should be applied against the prime minister for holding big election rallies 'when Covid-19 cases were rising' in the state, he claimed.
'Centre's claim of vaccinating India's adult population by 2021-end a hoax'
Banerjee dubbed as 'hoax' the Centre's claim of vaccinating the entire population above the age of 18 years by 2021, and asserted that the union government must provide jabs free of cost to states.
"That claim is just a hoax. The Centre says things like these. Before the Bihar elections, they had promised to inoculate its population after the elections, but nothing happened," she told reporters at the state secretariat.
Banerjee said considering the gap between doses, the process to vaccinate the entire eligible age group should take six months to a year to complete.
She said her government has spent Rs 150 crore to procure vaccines, but only 1.4 crore of the state's over 10-crore population could be inoculated so far.
"The Centre is not sending vaccines to states. Whatever little stock that is supplied, gets depleted within days... It must give free vaccines to state governments," she said.
The central government had on Monday said it expects to inoculate the country's adult population by the end of the year.