Suspension of Indian Forest Service officer Bennichen Thomas by the Kerala govt has created a row between the Centre and the Pinarayi govt
R.S. Sharma has a lot on his plate. As CEO of the National Health Authority (NHA), he is responsible for spearheading the country’s efforts to provide Covid-19 vaccines to the public. The emergence of the Omicron variant has only added to the challenge. India is still far behind in achieving 100 per cent vaccination by December 2021 as the Union government had assured the Supreme Court some months ago. So, it is indeed odd of Mr Sharma to go after his former organisation — the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues the 12- digit Aadhaar card to all eligible residents of the country. Not only was he the founder chief of UIDAI, but he had also authored a book lauding the virtues of the Aadhaar card. Yet recently Mr Sharma hit out at UIDAI questioning why it was still issuing physical Aadhaar cards and allowing offline verification when Aadhaar was essentiallya digital artifact.
Some observers see in Mr Sharma’s diatribe perhaps a dig at the current dispensation at UIDAI led by CEO Saurabh Goel, or perhaps even as far as Nandan Nilekani, who was the first chairman of the organisation and led the development of the Aadhaar card. They may have inferred this from Mr Sharma’s remarks when he went on cite the example of the NHA, which he now heads, and which is issuing digital health IDs to people. Clearly, promoting this over the Aadhaar ID is not helpful to anyone. Such shadow boxing can only harm both causes.
WHO WILL BE DELHI’S NEXT CHIEF SECRETARY?
Incumbent NDMC chairman Dharmendra is the natural choice for the post of Delhi’s chief secretary, but as we have often seen, the selection process is always a complicated one. The need has arisen because the current chief secretary, Vijay Kumar Dev, has been appointed as election commissioner of Delhi. Sources have informed DKB that Mr Dev may take VRS in January 2022 to prepare for his new assignment.
Curiously, with the Centre stuck in a tussle with the Mizoram government over the appointment of a chief secretary, Mr Dharmendra’s elevation to the top post in the Delhi government may not be the shoo-in that many expect. The Mizoram government wants the Centre-appointed AGMUT cadre officer, Renu Sharma, replaced by an officer who is well versed in the Mizo language. It instead named its own chief secretary, J.C. Ramthanga (reported here on Nov. 3). Sources say that the Centre, not wanting to be seen as imposing an officer on the state government, may accede to the state chief minister’s request. In case Ms Sharma returns, the Centre will have to find a respectable slot for her, which may well be the CS post in Delhi. After all, she’s equally capable and qualified for the position.
However, she may not be the only other choice that the Centre has. The buzz is that Arunachal Pradesh chief secretary Naresh Kumar might also be in the running. Punters are also taking bets on senior IAS officers Manoj Kumar Parida, Satya Gopal and additional chief secretary for urban development P.K. Gupta. It may finally come down to the officer who has the longest residual service. Here, Mr Dharmendra scores over the others. But the final call will obviously be taken by the PMO.
CENTRE STANDS UP FOR SUSPENDED KERALA FOREST OFFICER
The suspension of Indian Forest Service (IFoS) officer Bennichen Thomas by the Kerala government (as reported by DKB in this column on Nov. 17) has created a row between the Centre and the Pinarayi Vijayan government in the state. Mr Thomas was suspended for reportedly defying the state government’s directive on the sensitive Mullaperiyar Dam issue. Mr Thomas had granted permission to Tamil Nadu for cutting 15 trees growing in the vicinity of the dam.
Sources have informed DKB that the ministry of environment, forests and climate change has written to the state chief secretary, Mr V.P. Joy, seeking an explanation on why Mr Thomas was suspended without clearing it with the ministry, which is the cadre controlling authority. The letter written by the Inspector General of Forests, Mr A.K. Mohanty, states that the ministry learned about Mr Thomas’ suspension only from media reports.
Clearly, the Kerala government has come under pressure after ordering the suspension of the officer. Not just the Centre, but even the IAS and IPS associations have rallied behind the officer and have taken strong exception to the order. They are demanding that it be reviewed and revoked. With the Centre now jumping in, the Kerala CM has not just the dispute with the Tamil Nadu government over the dam to deal with, but also the miffed officials of the environment ministry.