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Minister-secretary ‘spat’ over recruitment

Calcutta, June 21: An alleged spat between a Trinamul minister and his secretary over recruitment of 2,268 home guards has raised several eyebrows at Writers’ Buildings after the senior bureaucrat termed the process initiated by his boss “unlawful”.

State civil defence minister Javed Khan had appointed S.L. Bhakat, a former secretary in the department and re-employed as officer on special duty (OSD) to the minister, as chairman of the recruitment committee, a move termed unlawful by N.R. Banerjee, the additional chief secretary in the department.

N.R. Banerjee has written a note to the minister pointing out why he considers the step unlawful. A copy of the note has been forwarded to chief secretary Samar Ghosh.

Khan, however, refused to buy the argument and stuck to his decision as he considered the move constitutional.

As both the minister and his secretary are not ready to budge from their stands, senior officials are waiting to see if the chief minister intervenes and takes steps to ensure a fair recruitment process.

N.R. Banerjee has written in his note that appointing the OSD to the minister as the head of the recruitment committee is illegal as the rules require the director-general (home guards) to oversee the recruitment. The DG (home guards) is supposed to do so with the help of district police chiefs.

“The state can appoint a consultant to make the process transparent. But he cannot supervise the process. The process initiated by the minister clearly states that it will be monitored by the retired IAS officer and the role of the DG (home guards) has been overlooked. That’s the reason why the secretary has termed the process unlawful,” a senior official in the department said.

N.R. Banerjee sent the letter to Khan after DG (home guards) P.K. Sahay told him that nepotism and favouritism could take place during the recruitment if the minister’s order was followed. Moreover, the department cannot appoint anybody except the DG (home guards) as the head of the recruitment committee, Sahay said.

“The secretary has written this to the minister. The chief secretary has also been informed. If the recruitment is done as desired by the minister, it will be unlawful,” the official added.

Khan told The Telegraph that he found nothing wrong in his decision. “I don’t see anything wrong in this. The DG (home guards) did not go to supervise the recruitment process in Jungle Mahal, from where we have appointed 5,000 home guards. I have appointed the OSD only to maintain transparency,” he said.

Officials in the department said most of the home guards would be recruited in the five commissionerates —Calcutta, Howrah, Salt Lake, Barrackpore and Asansol. The rest will be posted in 13 districts, including Hooghly, Nadia, South and North 24-Parganas.

“In the commissionerates, the home guards will mainly manage traffic. In the districts, home guards are usually deployed to assist the police in maintaining law and order. Home guards are also put on VIP duties,” an official said.

Writers’ sources said the differences between the minister and his secretary surfaced about a month ago when Khan re-appointed Bhakat as the OSD after he retired as civil defence secretary and entrusted him with most of the responsibilities of the department.

N.R. Banerjee had drawn the attention of the chief secretary to this, seeking his intervention.

“But nothing has been done so far,” the official said.