There is considerable heartburn and demoralisation in the Punjab bureaucracy over the use of extra-constitutional powers by AAP’s Delhi leader Raghav Chadha who regularly summons officers for meetings at the official bungalow allotted to him in Chandigarh near the Chief Minister’s residence.
He has been appointed as chairman of the advisory committee to Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and has also been elected to the Rajya Sabha as an MP from the state because of his proximity to Kejriwal.
According to sources, he issues directions to the officers of the Punjab government ostensibly on behalf of the CM even though Mann is not present at the meetings.
Sources disclose that former Chief Secretary Anirudh Tiwari had raised strong objections to this and refused to attend the meetings called by Chadha as a result of which he was shunted out from the job and replaced by VK Janjua.
Publically, Tiwari maintains a stark silence on the issue but is learned to have confided in more than one journalist covering the Punjab beat that he had made his disinclination to report to Chadha clear to the CM about. Tiwari has now been sidelined and posted as the head of the innocuous Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Public Administration. He has now sought to central deputation as he wants to go out of Punjab.
The selection of V.K. Janjua as the new Chief Secretary (CS) orchestrated mainly by Chadha is considered to be yet another unwise decision of the Mann government.
Janjua during his stint in the industries department many years ago was arrested by the Vigilance Bureau red-handed for having accepted a bribe of Rs 2 lakh from a Ludhiana-based industrialist. The money was recovered from the drawer of his table. The officer was, however, given a clean chit by former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh after an executive inquiry. Janjua's appointment as Chief Secretary is considered odd for a party that claims to have zero tolerance for corruption.
It is no secret in the corridors of power that postings and transfers of bureaucrats are done on the basis of unwritten orders and with the consent of Chadha. The ministers holding different portfolios too have to regularly meet Chadha and take him into confidence before taking any major decision.
All this is taking place in the name of guiding the young and inexperienced Mann cabinet since Chadha was trained to handle official functioning having closely worked with Kejriwal's Delhi government.
Chadha's clout seems to be growing with each passing day as was evident from the resignation of Advocate General (AG) Anmol Rattan Singh Sidhu on July 26. Sidhu had refused to recruit lawyers for the different posts in his office solely as per the whims and fancies of Chadha. Though AG was amenable to accommodating some "sifarishi" lawyers but not by ignoring merit altogether. As an agreement could not be reached AG decided to put in his papers.
The decision to appoint a controversial advocate Vinodh Ghai – who was the counsel for several tainted former ministers of the Congress regime facing action now – as the new AG too was taken at the instance of Chadha and his Delhi coterie, insiders revealed. Mann had no option but to toe the line. The notification regarding the appointment of Ghai AG has not been issued yet though CM Mann in a Facebook post today reiterated that his government would not go back on its decision.
Chadha's clout can also be gauged from the fact that he was the only MP out of seven sent to Rajya Sabha by AAP from Punjab who has been allotted a palatial government bungalow in Sector 2 of Chandigarh besides availing Z-Plus security. A fleet of government cars has been put at his disposal for use in Chandigarh. No other MPs who are at par with him in status has been given such luxuries.
Journalistic and political circles are keeping a close watch on to know what actually transpired in a meeting between AAP supremo Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann on Wednesday in Delhi where the Chief Minister was expected to take up the issue of complaints pouring in about Raghav Chadha.
According to sources, Mann had even gone to the extent of offering his resignation in case Chadha was not reined in. It now remains to be seen whether Mann succeeds in curtail what is seen as the extra-constitutional power of Chadha.