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AAP and officers locked in a tussle (Relevant for GS Prelims, GS Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance)

What is it?

All of last week, unprecedented images were emerging out of a visitors’ room in the residence-cum-secretariat of Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and three members of his Cabinet had gone in for a 5.30 p.m. meeting with Mr. Baijal on June 11 and decided to stay till he gave in to their demands.

The Aam Aadmi Party leaders wanted him to intervene and end what they called an illegal strike by bureaucrats for the past four months. Mr. Baijal refused to do so, arguing that it was between the political executive and the officers. The stalemate went on for nine days, as the Chief Minister and the Ministers spent the nights, ate their meals and tweeted from that room. Finally, on June 19, the dharna ended after officers attended some meetings called by the Ministers who had been outside the Raj Nivas. The officers maintained that they had been attending meetings.

How did it come about?

Mr. Kejriwal’s dharna was four months in the making. On February 19, Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash was called to the Chief Minister’s house for a meeting at midnight. What happened after that is now being investigated by the Delhi Police. The Chief Secretary alleged that he was assaulted by AAP MLAs, while Mr. Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia were present in the room. An FIR was filed, two AAP MLAs were arrested and later released, and Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Sisodia were questioned. After the alleged assault, officers of various cadres, including the IAS AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram-Union Territories), the Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service (DANICS) and the Delhi Administrative Subordinate Services (DASS), protested.

Why does it matter?

A joint forum of the three was formed, and it decided that officials would restrict their communication with the political executive to the written form and would attend only those meetings mandated by rules. So, an officer would attend meetings of the Cabinet, but would not meet a Minister in his office without notice. They insisted that this was not a strike. The officers demanded an apology from Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Sisodia for the alleged attack. Both have denied the attack.

In the past four months, the government has been at odds with its officers. The AAP has accused the Centre and the Lieutenant-Governor of orchestrating the agitation. In an unprecedented move, the officers have taken to Twitter and addressed press conferences, airing complaints of harassment by the political executive and concerns about their safety.

But the relations between the two had been rocky from the start. Soon after the AAP came to power in February 2015, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs in May that year put out a notification saying that besides public order, land and the police, which had always been in the domain of the Lieutenant-Governor, services, which involve the transfers, postings and disciplinary action against officers, were now in the Lieutenant-Governor’s jurisdiction.

The AAP went to court. The case ended up with the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench, which has reserved orders. Since then, the AAP has said the Centre is using the bureaucracy to derail its work.

What lies ahead?

Though the dharna is over, the trust deficit at the heart of the tussle remains. The officers insist that concerns about their safety and the environment at work have not been addressed. As a result, they continue the silent protest at lunchtime as they have done since February. With Mr. Kejriwal away in Bengaluru for naturopathy treatment till the first week of July, a meeting between him and the officers, as was demanded by the officers and privately agreed to by the government, is yet to take place. On Thursday, Mr. Sisodia offered to meet the officers. But the officers declined. What lies ahead depends on whether the meeting happens when the Chief Minister returns.

(Adapted from the Hindu)



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