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Iron or Reed? Tale of Two Lady Officers

Archana Ramasundaram

THE cliché ‘women’s empowerment’ has been the flavour of the season, mouthed ad nauseam by the ‘heir to the dynasty’ who has lost his ‘throne’. But here are two instances where ‘highly empowered women’ were dis-empowered and made to face severe embarrassment. This is the tale of two lady officers of the All-India Services (AIS) that brings out the malfunctioning of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), incompetence of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and arbitrariness of the State Governments—reducing the iron frame to a mere reed!

The senior of the two is Archana Ramasundaram, an IPS officer of Director -General of Police rank, belonging to the Tamil Nadu cadre. In February 2014, she was appointed Additional Director, CBI, by the ACC after ignoring RK Pachnanda of the West Bengal cadre, who was recommended by the Central Vigilance Commission. The appointment, not in conformity with the CVC Act and the Supreme Court judgment, was challenged in the apex court which restrained Ramasundaram from discharging her CBI functions.

In a double whammy, she was placed under suspension by the State government for joining duty at the CBI headquarters ‘without the leave of the Tamil Nadu government’. The charge against her was ‘desertion’ of her post in the Tamil Nadu Police, which is absurd because she did not vanish into thin air. She joined duty after repeatedly requesting the State government to relieve her and on getting directions from the Central government as the sequence of events below reveals:

October 15, 2013: The Government of Tamil Nadu (GoTN) forwards Ramasundaram’s name for central deputation at ADGP level, along with vigilance clearance.

February 7, 2014: GoI (DoPT) issues orders appointing her Additional Director, CBI.

February 10, 2014: Ramasundaram writes to GoTN, requesting to be relieved early, especially on the grounds of her father’s illness.

February 24, 2014: The GoI’s first reminder to Chief Secretary, GoTN, to relieve Ramasundaram.
March 10, 2014: The GoI’s second reminder to the TN Chief Secretary.

April 7, 2014: Third reminder from the GoI to the TN Chief Secretary.

Durga Shakti Nagpal

There was no response from the GoTN. According to sources, Ramasundaram had called on the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister twice (February 24 and 27, 2014), requesting to be relieved early, mentioning her father’s illness. She also called on the Chief Secretary several times between February and April 2014 with the same request.

The CBI Director also kept reminding the DoPT. On May 7, 2014, the GoI wrote directly to Ramasundaram, asking her to join immediately, with a copy to Chief Secretary, GoTN. On that very day, Ramasundaram, after informing the Chief Secretary, the Home Secretary and the DGP in writing, went to Delhi and joined duty on May 8. On the same night, GoTN delivered her suspension order at her residence in Chennai. On May 9, the CBI Director wrote to Secretary, DoPT, that her suspension was untenable since she had already joined duty in the CBI and that the Supreme Court had also taken this on record.

It is evident that Ramasundaram’s suspension by the GoTN was vengeful and arbitrary. The ACC and DoPT also committed a gross blunder in the case.

What happened to a much younger lady IAS officer—Durga Shakti Nagpal—of the UP cadre in July last year is too well known to be repeated. When Nagpal’s case was investigated along with that of another AIS officer—SanjivChaturvedi, Haryana cadre, Indian Forest Service—it was found that DoPT had been incompetent and irresponsible in enforcing AIS rules. But no remedial measures appear to have been taken. It is imperative that the new government revisit the matter. If Ramasundaram’s appointment in the CBI is wrong, it should be cancelled and its background investigated. But her suspension on the charge of ‘desertion’ is untenable and should be revoked. This is the least that needs to be done by way of damage control.

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