It has been exactly one year since N. Balakrishnan appealed against his suspension as Deputy Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library here.
Since then, the government has debated on a number of issues. First, who is the appellate authority: the Culture Minister or the president of the NMML Society. Incidentally, both positions are currently held by the Prime Minister.
Second, what would be a “polite and convincing” way for Culture Secretary Jawahar Sircar, who was finally given the task of appellate authority, to “explain” the issue to “senior statesman” Karan Singh, chairman of NMML's Executive Council, without appearing to “summarily overrule” him.
Third, whether Mr. Balakrishnan's suspension can be continued on grounds of “moral turpitude.” The charges appear to be that he postponed interviews for the NMML Fellowship programme in 2004, accepted late applications, and that he somehow manipulated recruitment rule changes in order to benefit himself. (The changes were approved by the Executive Committee including Dr. Karan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.)
While the government debate — as seen through more than 50 pages of internal Ministry correspondence received in reply to an RTI query — continued, Mr. Balakrishnan's original three-month suspension was extended by six months, and then a further six months.
Now, 365 days later, Mr. Balakrishnan is still waiting for justice.
“It is clearly not an honest exercise of power,” says Nitya Ramakrishnan, lawyer representing him in a High Court case seeking to end the suspension. The next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
She points out that Mr. Sircar waited till December 31, 2009 to conduct Mr. Balakrishnan's hearing, despite a High Court order directing that a decision be made by December 7. He then waited till February 1, 2010 to write a note on the hearing, admitting that it “does not appear to be substantiable” to continue the suspension on the grounds of alleged moral turpitude. Meanwhile, near the end of January, Mr. Balakrishnan's suspension was extended for another six months.
“He is living on a subsistence allowance while all this is going on,” says Ms. Ramakrishnan. “This is not some sort of social game … A man's livelihood is at stake here. You cannot play around with that.”
Ms. Ramakrishnan is most incensed at some of Mr. Sircar's file notings. In July, he noted that Dr. Karan Singh “had taken exception to Secretary (Culture)'s proposed hearing of Dr. Balakrishnan's appeal — for which reason it is deferred.”
Even after the Law Ministry clarified that the Culture Ministry was the appellate authority, according to the CCS (CCA) rules which govern Central government employees, Mr. Sircar seems to have baulked at overruling Dr. Karan Singh.
After months of going back and forth, he wrote a note to junior officials on November 14, 2009, saying the “PM/Culture Minister is graciously telling us to convince a senior statesman [Dr. Karan Singh] that justice be done by him — and not summarily overrule him in terms of CCS (CCA) rules … Forcing the CCS Rules down NMML's throat is a crude approach — that has not worked.”
Mr. Sircar notes: “It is a sad day when a Secretary, he none else, has to bear the brunt of a whisper campaign and blame game, has to put this in writing as he could not convince a Director, for months together that this has to be done differently.” He then requested the Joint Secretary to “put up a courteous note for Chairman of Executive Council that I can explain to him with deference to his seniority and age.”
As his Joint Secretary then noted, whether it is a “crude approach” or not, the CCS (CCA) Rules do apply to NMML.
Ms. Ramakrishnan adds: “Mr. Sircar cannot abdicate his responsibility in this way. No matter what his seniority and age, Karan Singh is here the disciplinary authority, and Mr. Sircar has every right to overrule him as the appellate authority…This kind of deference is unheard of.”
Dr. Karan Singh was unwilling to comment until the enquiry report was submitted “within a few weeks.” Mr. Sircar could not be reached for comment, despite repeated attempts.