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Ministers break ice (not leg)
- Ugly spats give way to bonhomie between babus & netas

Patna, Oct. 19: From threats of bodily injury to bonhomie with Barfi!, the ice between Bihar’s ministers and their bureaucrat secretaries is fast melting.

IAS babus in the state have often shared a rocky relationship with their neta bosses, locking horns over issues that ranged from the trivial to the serious.

But the winds of change are blowing.

Social welfare minister Parveen Amanullah, for example, has chosen to break the ice over a movie and popcorn. The minister, not known to have had the best of working relationships with her IAS secretaries, invited the current top bureaucrat in her department, Rajit Punhani, while going to watch the much-acclaimed Barfi! with her family members earlier this month. Punhani, a 1991-batch officer and alumnus of St Stephen’s College and IIM-Bangalore who had earlier mentioned the movie during an informal talk with the minister, joined Amanullah’s family.

“I not only purchased the ticket for Rajit, but also paid for the popcorn,” the minister told The Telegraph with a smile on her face.

Since becoming minister in November 2010, Amanullah has had four officers — Vijay Kumar Verma, Amitabh Verma, Sandeep Poundrik and Vandana Kini — as department secretary/principal secretary, before Punhani joined the post in August this year.

“Relationship depends on the person whom you are dealing with. Rajit is very hardworking and as he lives alone here, I felt like asking him to join us for the movie,” Amanullah said.

Similarly, water resources minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary enjoys a good rapport with the principal secretary in his department, Afzal Amanullah.

“I have never faced any problem while working with the principal secretary and in most cases, we carry similar views on important issues related to the department,” Chaudhary said.

The bonhomie extends beyond office hours. The two have been to each other’s houses for meals as well. “We share a very good rapport with each other and this has allowed us to have cordial relations on a personal level as well,” said Afzal Amanullah, a 1979-batch officer and, like Punhani, an alumnus of St Stephen’s.

But the old mistrust still prevails in some departments. For example, mines and geology minister Satyadev Narayan Arya recently wrote a letter to chief secretary A.K. Sinha complaining about the alleged violation of rules by his department secretary, K.P. Ramaiah, in a case relating to the joining of a suspended officer of the rank of additional director.

“Ramaiah should be removed from the department and a good officer should be posted here,” Arya said while explaining why he sent the missive to the chief secretary.

Ramaiah, however, scoffed at the allegations. “There is not even an iota of truth in what the minister is claiming. The officer himself joined the department on the basis of a court order. But I cancelled his joining as the chief minister’s order regarding cancellation of his suspension is still awaited,” Ramaiah said.

Bureaucrats say the improved relations are a far cry from the old times when ugly spats between babus and netas were common.

During RJD rule, then secretary in the Rajbhasha department, Vijay Kumar Verma, had written a letter to the home department pleading for his safety after the then minister had allegedly threatened to break his legs. Verma, now chairman of the revenue board, didn’t want to get into the details. “It is a closed chapter now,” he said.

Bihar has also witnessed a minister using his special powers to nail his department secretary. Retired IAS officer Abhimanyu Singh, in his book We Deserve Better Governance, has mentioned how the then tourism minister, Hind Keshari Yadav, had moved a privilege motion in 1991 accusing him (Singh), who was department secretary, of furnishing wrong information.

“The then leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, Jagannath Mishra, opposed the move. The minister’s move failed as he did not get the support of the ruling party also on this issue,” Singh said while recalling the incident.

Giving reasons for his stand on this issue, Mishra, who is now in New Delhi, told The Telegraph by phone, “I knew that Abhimanyu Singh was an upright officer. Moreover, moving a privilege motion by the department minister against his secretary would have set a bad trend.”

Mishra, who was chief minister thrice (1975-77, 1980-83 and 1989-90), said differences crop up because a minister happens to be a political person whereas a secretary has a bureaucratic style of functioning. “Even during my tenure as CM, several such issues came up, including the one in 1976 between then welfare minister Ram Ratan Ram and then department secretary J.M. Lyngdoh. But I would resolve the issue after listening to both the minister and the secretary. This is the best way to sort out differences and to keep things under control,” he said.