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Wanted: room at Writers’
Ministers four, office space one

The expansion of the state council of ministers on Wednesday has resulted in a space crunch at Writers’ Buildings as at least four new faces will eye the lone minister’s room left vacant at the seat of power.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee inducted eight leaders from the districts into the council as part of her preparations for the upcoming panchayat elections.

Sources in the PWD — which handles allocation of rooms to ministers and secretaries — said at least four new ministers are likely to place demands for rooms at Writers’ as their departments don’t have rooms for ministers elsewhere .

“The other four are unlikely to requisition rooms as they will be handling departments with offices outside Writers’,” said a PWD official.

“Several ministers with departments outside Writers’ — in Salt Lake or the New Secretariat — prefer office space at Writers’. That’s the reason for the space crunch…. There is little we can do if the ministers requisition rooms at Writers’,” the official added.

Writers’ has 29 rooms for ministers, barring the one for the chief minister, across two floors in the main block. The only one available was last occupied by Sabina Yasmin of the Congress, the former minister of state for labour. She and six other Congress leaders resigned on September 22 after their party quit the ruling coalition in response to Mamata Banerjee’s withdrawal of support to the UPA II government.

The rush for rooms started after the resignation of the seven Congress ministers, four of whom were based at Writers’. Several ministers started hunting for a bigger and better office space, with junior housing and youth affairs minister Aroop Biswas (elevated to the Cabinet rank on Wednesday) enjoying the first mover’s advantage and moving into the sprawling room of Abu Hena, the former fisheries minister.

“Manas Bhuniya’s room was allotted to Mukul Roy after the former railway minister was made an adviser to the transport department,” said an official.

Roy is yet to move into the room but he is already facing competition as fellow MP Sultan Ahmed, former junior tourism minister in Delhi, has reportedly asked for a room in his new capacity as adviser to the chief minister on minority affairs.

“The first-floor room of Manoj Chakraborty of the Congress, who resigned as minister of state for parliamentary affairs in January, had been lying vacant till it was recently allotted to the minister of state for health, Chandrima Bhattacharya,” said an officer.

Left with only one room against a potential demand from four ministers, PWD sources are unsure about how to address the tricky issue.

“Space for a few others could have been created at Writers’ had the practice of ministers holding on to more than one room or preferring Writers’ against other office addresses been discontinued,” said a PWD official.

For example, Madan Mitra — who was promoted to the rank of minister-in-charge of transport — holds two rooms as transport and sports minister on the second floor of Writers’. Biswas also has a sprawling office at New Secretariat on Kiran Shankar Roy Road.

“The space crunch is acute for secretaries of some departments as well. Women and child development are two departments, so we need to find space for two secretaries,” grumbled an official.