In what is a clear setback to Telangana Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar, the state high court on Tuesday, 10 January, directed him to revert to the Andhra Pradesh (AP) cadre, to which he was allotted at the time of the bifurcation of the state in 2014.
Within hours, the Central government asked Somesh to join the AP government latest by 12 January. Acting with great speed, the Centre also relieved him from the service of the Telangana government.
In a letter to Somesh Kumar on Tuesday, Union Department of Personnel and Training Undersecretary Anshuman Mishra said that following the quashing of the 2016 order by the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) — which put him in Telangana — by the Telangana High Court, he stood relieved from the service of the Telangana government with immediate effect.
Mishra also said Kumar had been directed to send a compliance report to the department after joining the AP government.
In his letter to Kumar, Mishra quoted the operative portion of the High court order which read: “…That being the position and upon a thorough consideration of all aspects of the matter, we have no hesitation in holding that CAT had grossly erred in interfering with the allocation of the first respondent (Somesh Kumar) to the state of Andhra Pradesh. Consequently, judgement and order dated 29.03.2016 passed by CAT in OA no: 1241 of 2014 being clearly unsustainable in law and on facts, is hereby set aside and quashed. Writ petition is accordingly allowed. However, there shall be no order to the costs.”
The Telangana High Court order
While issuing the order, a division bench of the Telangana High Court headed by Chief Justice Ujjal Bhyuan did not allow Kumar’s plea to keep the order in abeyance for three weeks to allow him to appeal the decision.
This means that Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar, who has just about a year of service left, would have to leave Telangana and move to Andhra Pradesh until such time he gets a stay order.
It means that he would cease to be chief secretary of Telangana and would have to take up whatever responsibility that the Andhra Pradesh government assigns him, commensurate with his rank.
It remains to be seen what course of action he would take — whether he would move an appeal in the Supreme Court, or move to Andhra Pradesh.
Soon after the high court order, Somesh Kumar met with Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao. It is not known what they discussed.
Background to the case
At the time of the bifurcation of the state in 2014, Somesh Kumar, when he was assigned to Andhra Pradesh, had challenged the order in the CAT.
In 2016, the CAT issued orders that if the Telangana government felt that his services were required, it could retain him after getting the consent of the Andhra Pradesh government.
The Centre, however, moved the Telangana High Court, seeking a stay on the CAT’s order.
The state government had argued in court that it would lead to seniority problems in the two states among IAS officers and would have a cascading effect on others.
The high court had kept its order in reserve a few months ago after hearing the arguments of Somesh Kumar, and the central and state governments.
On Tuesday, the Telangana High Court, allowing the plea of the Centre, gave its verdict, effectively cancelling the CAT’s order.
Somesh Kumar, who is believed to have the trust of Chief Minister KCR, was appointed chief secretary of Telangana on 31 December, 2019, completing more than three years of service in the position as of now — which is a first.
He happens to be one of the longest-serving chief secretaries in the country.
Apart from discharging the responsibilities of the chief secretary, he holds charge of the departments of excise, revenue, commercial taxes, stamps and registration, and land administration.
He played an important role in the cleansing of land records and uploading them into the Dharni portal after digitisation.
His retirement is due on 31 December this year.
BJP welcomes HC order
The Opposition BJP was quick to welcome the high court order directing Somesh Kumar to return to his original cadre in Andhra Pradesh.
“The BJP stands vindicated of our earlier charge that Chief Minister KCR was holding ‘out of cadre’ IAS officers for his ‘special interest’ against central government administrative norms,” a party statement said.
Throwing what it called were “a few pointed questions” at KCR, the party asked: “Why should he (KCR) opt for favourites amongst IAS officers, especially those who are not even assigned the Telangana state cadre? What do these officers enable for KCR? Why are these officers being given plum posts and made to dominate and override all other administrative officers of Telangana state cadre?”
The statement added that Somesh Kumar “must immediately follow” the high court order and return to his assigned cadre in Andhra Pradesh.