Delhi Officer suspended over Sikkim blunder for Civil Defence Corps ad. Senior Delhi government officer got suspended after he portrayed Sikkim as a separate nation. The officer said that he relied on a central government document, “without realising” its description of the northeastern state.
The officer whose name is Rahul Sudan said he was upset about what had happened, but claimed he wasn’t the only person involved in formulating the ad. The ad was for the volunteers for the Union Territory’s Civil Defence Corps.
“Several other officers are involved and the file and advertisements are published only after being approved by the chief minister and the deputy chief minister, but I guess no one realised,” said Sudan, 50, who served as senior staff officer (publication and coordination) in the Directorate of Civil Defence (headquarters).
Civil Defence Corps, a largely volunteer-based organisation that is mobilised at the time of emergencies and disasters had released ad in newspapers Saturday inviting applicants.
The eligibility criteria stated that applications were open to a “citizen of India or a subject of Sikkim or of Bhutan or of Nepal and a resident of Delhi”. Sikkim objected immediately, saying the ad was “immensely hurtful” and “offensive”.
The confusion can be attributed to the fact that the law overseeing the civil defence corps, the Civil Defence Act, 1968, was first passed seven years before Sikkim became a part of India in 1975. While the Act was updated in 1975 to reflect Sikkim’s new status, the regulations issued in 1968 as part of the law weren’t.
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Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officers said it would be wrong to blame the controversy on central government documents since the Act was updated and the change notified in the official Gazette.
Besides Delhi misrepresenting the Civil Defence Act,government websites of Assam and Odisha also mention Sikkim as a category separate from Indian citizens in the eligibility criteria for civil defence corps.
Asked about the Delhi incident, sources in the MHA, the nodal ministry for the Act, said blaming it on central government documents amounted to perpetuating “incorrect” information. The sources said the 1968 Act was updated by a notification that came into force on 1 October 1975.
“In exercise or the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Civil Defense Act 1968 (27 of 1968), the Central Government hereby directs that the Civil Defence Rules 1968 shall extend to and come into force in the State or Sikkim with effect on and from 1st day of October, 1975,” the gazette notification issued at the time said. The footnote of the Act also mentions the 1975 notification.
When asked why the civil defence regulations, issued in 1968, still mention the “subject of Sikkim” separately, the source said all old documents need not be changed once the new Act has been updated and the change notified in the gazette.
“It need not be changed in and every old document related to it. It is understood that once the notification is out, it will be applicable for every decision made in that regard in the future,” an MHA officer said.
Gopal Sankaranarayanan senior advocate in Supreme Court said the “regulations were made by the central government under Section 9, prior to Sikkim being added to the Indian union, but they have nothing to do with the independent power of the state governments under sections 4 and 5 of the Act to recruit members for the local corps”.
The Delhi government, he added, ought to have realised that Sikkim is now an integral part of India. “Copy-pasting” from an inapplicable regulation shows carelessness, he said. “However, it may be harsh to suspend an officer for what could not probably have been a deliberate act,” he said.
Senior Supreme Court advocate K.T.S. Tulsi said the Delhi ad was a clear case of negligence “not just on the part of the officer who has been suspended, but other consequential departments involved as well”.
“There should be uniformity in such matters and, if this is the case, the Centre should also ensure the changes are made on all such documents if the Act was updated.”
However, he said administrative action is justified against someone who commits such an error.
The suspension of Sudan, sanctioned by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal has become a political issue in Delhi, where the elected state government and the central government often find themselves at odds over governance issues.
The AAP slammed the opposition for doing petty politics over the issue, saying the ad “clearly followed home ministry (MHA) guidelines”.
“At this difficult time when the Delhi government is trying to work together with other governments, the BJP and Congress leaders are busy in petty politics. The Delhi government advertisement clearly follows the MHA guideline,” read a tweet in Hindi posted Saturday by the AAP’s official Twitter handle.
The Delhi unit of the BJP, meanwhile, accused the AAP of “misleading people”, saying Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal should “apologise to the people of northeast who are proud Indians for this insensitivity”.
A 15-year veteran of the civil defence department, Sudan said no such incident had been reported earlier, adding he is ready to apologise.
“Since this happened over the weekend, I couldn’t go apologise, so I am hoping, in another day or so, I can meet the authorities and be given another chance,” he said.
“I was hoping to be in the field during a crisis like this and make the civil defence corps proud, but now that I am suspended I feel I can’t even do that,” Sudan added.
Even so, he said there’s been a positive side-effect of this incident. “I think people have become slightly more aware of civil defence and how it is the backbone during such a crisis and all the effort the our corps put in.”