MUMBAI:“We are jokingly called a community of migrants because of our frequent transfers but now we have become a nomadic tribe,” says a senior IAS official from Maharashtra. His comment reflects the current state of mind of the state’s bureaucrats; they are not sure whether they will be allowed to work in a free and fair atmosphere.
A cold war between ministers and bureaucrats has led to a palpable sense of loss in the Maharashtra government within seven months of it coming to power. Several ministers have complained to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis against the secretaries of their respective departments. The ministers allege that the babus refuse to follow their instructions. On the other hand, the bureaucrats complain that their ministers are too demanding.
The row intensified when Food and Civil Supplies Minister Girish Bapat raised the issue of a minister’s supremacy at a Cabinet meeting two weeks ago. “Who is superior in the government, a minister or a secretary? The administration does not follow the minister’s instructions. They don’t have to face the people’s ire,” Bapat reportedly said at the closed door meeting.
Other ministers such as Eknath Khadse, Diwakar Raote, Prakash Mehta and Girish Mahajan echoed Bapat. They got furious when Chief Secretary Swadheen Kshatriya advised them to take decisions after due consultation with the secretaries. They felt that the advice was an encroachment on their constitutional rights. Sensing a possible confrontation and a subsequent rift, Fadnavis transferred the bureaucrats against whom the ministers had grudges.
“A minister is the chief of his department. The bureaucrats are there to assist him and not to block his functioning,” Bapat said.
The bureaucrats feel that the ministers are taking decisions playing for the galleries. “This is a new government so they want to show that they are in command. They have taken several decisions either in haste or to underpin that they can run the show,” an IAS official said.
Tussles between ministers and bureaucrats is not new to Maharashtra. The state’s seat of power was renamed Mantralaya (ministers’ den) from Sachivalaya (secretaries’ den) in the 1980s when it was unanimously accepted that a minister will be the final authority in his department and not the secretary.
Former chief minister Ashok Chavan taunted the Fadnavis government for taking on the secretaries. “The bureaucrats in Maharashtra are the best in the country. You (government) must have an idea on how to get work done from them,” Chavan said.