SEEMA MUSTAFA | 22 APRIL, 2016
Is There a Conflict of Interest Between Rashtrapati Bhawan and Raj bhawan, Uttarakhand?
NEW DELHI: “Even the President can go wrong” observed the Uttarakhand High Court while hearing the case on the imposition of President’s rule in the state. The court was responding to the Centre’s argument that Presidents rule cannot be reviewed by the courts, but unmoved the judges observed, "There is no such decision like that of a king which cannot be subject to judicial review."
Subsequently the courts have struck down President’s rule and restored the state government.
But away from the judiciary and the media spotlights there is an ongoing discussion within political circles around what is being viewed as a possible conflict of interest between the President’s Secretariat and Uttarakhand Raj Bhawan. The powerful secretary to President Pranab Mukherjee, Omita Paul is the wife of the Uttarakhand Governor K.K. Paul on whose report the President acted.
KK Paul was an IPS officer who married Omita Paul, a former Indian Information Officer who has been working now with Pranab Mukherjee in his various posts since the 1980’s. Governor Paul has himself held several important positions, after retiring as Delhi Police Commissioner in 2007. He went on to the Union Public Service Commission and was there till 2013 when he became Governor of Meghalaya.
President Pranab Mukherjee took charge on July 2012 at which point Ms Paul who had worked with him in the Finance Ministry when he was Minister, was appointed his Secretary in Rashtrapati Bhawan. Governor Paul stayed in Meghalaya for a year, then in 2014 he took charge of Nagaland, was given additional charge of Mizoram and then in 2015 was appointed as Governor of Uttarakhand.
Ms Paul has always kept a very low profile, but has faced controversy because of her proximity to President Mukherjee and the considerable influence she is reputed to have exercised in her different positions. She joined the indian Information Service in 1973, took voluntary retirement in 2002. She was noticed by Pranab Mukherjee as a bright officer when he was the Union Commerce Minister in 1980 and she was serving as a junior officer in the same ministry. Later when he became Finance Minister in 1982 in the Indira Gandhi cabinet Ms Paul was appointed as his director, public relations. At that time her husband KK Paul was serving as DCP in Delhi Police.
After a brief falling out with Rajiv Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee returned to government as the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. Ms Paul followed him there as the Officer on Special Duty. More recently in 2004 when the UPA came to power, she became his advisor in the Defence Ministry, and moved with him to External Affairs and Finance as well. In the Finance Ministry officials spoke of her influence and Rediff reported in 2012 after put in her papers a little before he was elected President, “Now that she has resigned, her ex-colleagues in the finance ministry say that Mukherjee had begun to rely too much on her for advice. As a result, he would often fail to get the full picture. This perhaps resulted from the fact that Mukherjee was the Congress's main troubleshooter and headed several groups of ministers formed to look into various matters; as a result, he often did not have the time to meet all his officers in the ministry of finance and let himself be guided by Paul.
Otherwise, the officers say, the embarrassment caused by GAAR (General Anti-Avoidance Rules) and the retrospective tax amendments introduced in this year's budget could have been avoided. The officers disclose that one Central Board of Direct Taxes functionary had convinced Paul that this was the right thing to do. Once she was convinced, there was nothing that could stop it from becoming law. In March, after Mukherjee had presented the budget in Parliament, Paul had looked tired. When asked the reason, she said she hadn't slept for many days -- the days when the budget was being prepared.”
Ms Paul was appointed by President Mukherjee as his Secretary as soon as he took over. According to the Presidents Secretariat site, “The President’s Secretariat provides secretarial assistance to the President in discharging constitutional, ceremonial and other State responsibilities.
The President’s Secretariat is headed by the Secretary to the President who is assisted by a team of officers as per details available on The President’s Secretariat website. The President’s Secretariat includes Secretariat, Household and Garden workcharged establishments. These wings perform tasks relating to constitutional, administrative, hospitality of State guests, petitions on wide ranging subjects from general public and maintenance of Rashtrapati Bhavan, President’s Estate and Gardens.
All matters requiring attention of the President in matters relating to executive power and powers under statutes or relating to appointments of constitutional authorities are received in the President’s Secretariat from the nodal Ministries concerned and submitted to the President through the Secretary to the President. Once the President has assented to the proposed course of action, the files go back to the concerned Ministries.”
(Photograph from Twitter: Governor Uttarakhand KK Paul with wife Omita Paul,June 2015)