Pulls And Counterpulls
- Chief minister Raman Singh has ordered inquiries into complaints against bureaucrats
- R. Prasanna, secy of the state IAS association, denies that officers do not work
- Opinion divided on whether the tussle has strengthened or weakened the chief minister
A post on his Facebook wall by an IAS officer posted in Chhattisgarh has created public furore. The post is purported to be a conversation between the officer and an elected representative, and it gained traction partly because it came at a time when several ministers in the state have been publicly complaining about bureaucrats, alleging officers no longer take elected representatives seriously.
In a Facebook post not short on sarcasm, Paul Alex Menon, a district magistrate who hit the headlines when he was abducted by Maoists in 2012, wrote: “Working in remote tribal districts for so many years for a salary of Rs 60,000 (which started at Rs 15,000 in 2006) and being able to meet parents and relatives once in a year; completely cut off from roots and fighting out all odds in backward areas; trying to make a change with a demotivated team; lacking second rank n lower level leadership...it’s a nightmare....”
The officer then writes, “On a Sunday morning...u start getting phone calls from 7.30 am. Three missed calls when you were actually draining your bowels in the toilet.... When you come out; you feel scared as three missed calls from an elected representative means there’s something really serious.... You immediately call him back and this is how the conversation (proceeds):
DM: I was in the washroom and hence could not take your call; what can I do for you?
Elected Representative: Tell me officer, what kind of close relationship do you have with X?
DM: What happened?
ER: Why is this man not being relieved even after he has been transferred? Why is he being made to do all the work?
DM: He actually happens to be my nephew.”
The officer, currently the district collector of Balrampur, then proceeded to explain that most government employees did not want to work in remote areas and in regions that are considered Naxalite strongholds. But he could not relieve anyone unless the reliever also turns up. And in this particular case, he had refused to relieve not one but 39 employees, many of whom could have secured transfer orders using political connections.
While Menon hastened to add that elected representatives who called up this way to get work done were rare, and that most of them were polite and courteous, the tension between ministers, MLAs and bureaucrats, simmering for some time, appears to have reached a boiling point. Even when a minister, Bhaiyyalal Rajwade, was publicly humiliated and refused entry to a factory by industrialist Vinod Garg, who is said to be an important contributor of funds to the BJP, the minister felt that officers of his own department let him down. Garg himself flew to Delhi to complain to the BJP top brass about what had happened but was persuaded finally to express his regrets. Garg had taken umbrage at the minister’s unannounced inspection trip and alleged that the minister had demanded a payment of Rs 5 lakh.
At a recent cabinet meeting, several heavyweight ministers complained that the bureaucracy was actively conspiring to defame them. A minister present at the meeting confirmed that ministers like Ajay Chandrakar, Brijmohan Agarwal, Premprakash Pande and Punnulal Mohile had indeed sought the chief minister’s intervention. The issue was raised by them in the BJP core committee meeting the next day, where disgruntled BJP leaders Ramesh Bains and Nandkumar Soi added their voice to the din.
Chandrakar has been accused of harassing and hounding out of service a woman who has been trying in vain to lodge an FIR against the minister. School education minister Kedar Kashyap, too, appears aggrieved these days—following the detection of an impersonator appearing for his wife at an examination. Brijmohan Agarwal, a six-term MLA and minister of long standing, is apparently upset with his perceived stagnation in state politics. He is also said to be aggrieved because the chief minister is said to give more importance to his junior minister Rajesh Munnat, while Agarwal himself is seldom consulted on policy matters. Premprakash Pande’s resentment is said to stem from the suspension of an official on behalf of whom he had interceded.
The group of ministers are clearly using this issue to make common cause against chief minister Raman Singh, who will be completing 12 years in office later this month.
By Yashwant Dhote in Raipur