Kolkata: West Bengal’s Left Front government, trying to come to terms with its worst electoral performance in the state in 32 years, is facing a new problem: an exodus of senior civil servants who want to move on to other, hopefully less stressful, postings.
At least eight principal secretaries in the state government, including two additional chief secretaries, are looking to leave. That makes for about one-sixth of the state administration officials with the rank of principal secretary.
Most of them are “headed for Delhi” to work in the Union government, said S.N. Haque, principal secretary in the personnel and administrative reforms department, who is responsible for human resources. “We have already issued no objections to five applicants,” he said.
The flight of bureaucrats from the state government follows the April-May general election that saw the Left Front’s tally of Lok Sabha seats from West Bengal drop to 15, from 35 in 2004.
Among some civil servants in a state that has for long been a Left bastion, there’s no mistaking a sense of frustration.
“If you work in Delhi, you can deliver because of better work culture. Also, in Delhi, there isn’t much political interference... Here, things don’t move,” said urban development secretary P.K. Pradhan, who is looking to leave.
Not only are bureaucrats looking to leave Kolkata’s Writers Buildings, the state government secretariat, even those on deputation in New Delhi are not willing to return, according to Haque, an officer from the 1982 batch of the Indian Administrative Service, or IAS.
“The terms of at least two officers from West Bengal (who were on deputation) have ended, but they don’t want to come back,” said Haque. “There is no charm working in West Bengal. I am a principal secretary, and head two departments. Yet, I need the clearance of the finance department even to spend Rs500, whereas even a joint secretary in the government of India has the power to sign an international agreement.”
Two of those looking to leave—environment secretary M.L. Meena and commerce and industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen—are vying for the chairman’s post at Kolkata Port Trust, which fell vacant after Anup Chanda’s term ended on 24 June.
The two additional chief secretaries looking to leave the state government are Sunil Mitra and Sumantra Choudhury, who are also principal secretaries in the power and transport departments, respectively. Both have obtained clearances from Writers Buildings, and are likely joining the Union government, said Haque.
Others looking to leave are Sumanta Chaudhuri, principal secretary in the department of public enterprises; Rajiva Sinha, who heads the department for food processing industries and horticulture; and M.V. Rao, former managing director of West Bengal Industrial Development Corp. Ltd (WBIDC), who is the principal secretary in the department for animal resources development.
Even P.R. Baviskar, an officer from the 1985 batch who is the chief executive of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority, has applied for two-year study leave. His leaving means the urban development department will be losing its two most important officers, including Pradhan.
But others tried to play down the difficulties faced by bureaucrats working in Kolkata.
“I don’t want to add to the controversy… I have only two years to retire,” said Mitra. “It’s a personal decision (to move to New Delhi). I was empanelled to join the Central government a year ago.”
“I think West Bengal offers a lot of challenges, and IAS officers are still willing to take that challenge,” added Mitra, who is also the president of the Indian Administrative Service Association, West Bengal.
“All IAS officers aspire to work with the Union government,” said Sen, who with Rao shot to the limelight thanks to the state government’s drive for industrialization.
Rao, initially the director of industry, was appointed managing director of WBIDC after he played a key role in land acquisition in Singur, where Tata Motors Ltd was to set up a small-car factory. But after the company pulled the plug on the project, Rao was replaced.
“It’s natural for IAS officers to move to Delhi after spending some years with a state government,” said Chaudhuri, who heads the public enterprises department and has been struggling to restructure state-owned companies.
“Transfers are a routine thing,” said Meena, who has been facing criticism for taking too long to grant clearances to industrial projects. “But people are talking about it this time because even officers who were considered close to the state government are looking to leave,” he added.
Bureaucrats in Kolkata have been facing flak from politicians after the Left’s 20-seat loss in the 15th general election.
Speaking at Mint’s Clarity Through Debate Conclave on 19 June, West Bengal’s finance minister Asim Dasgupta said industrialists were facing “real problems with procedural delays” in obtaining clearances from the state government. “We have to change, no doubt about it.”