|One of the empty office rooms of the SSEP department at 2.36pm last Tuesday. (Sanat Kr Sinha)
The chief justice of Calcutta High Court may be worried about “work culture” in the country but bandh-happy Bengal is tolerant of offices that stay in shutdown mode through the year.
A department in the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA)’s Salt Lake office has 27 employees without any work, but nobody dares transfer them to a section where they can be gainfully employed.
A plan to transfer the lazybones to departments that are short of manpower has been put on hold because urban development minister Firhad Hakim is allegedly behind them.
“The minister as well as the CEO had promised us that nobody from the small-scale entrepreneur programme (SSEP) department will be transferred to any other wing,” said a general secretary of the Trinamul-affiliated CMDA Employees’ Union.
When Metro called up minister Hakim on Sunday evening to ask whether there was any plan to disband the department, he said: “No, it will continue. We will see if we can create work for the department.”
Arup Kumar Saha, who took charge as the CEO of CMDA a month ago, declined to comment.
A visit to the Salt Lake office around 2.15pm last Tuesday proved why the SSEP is a drain on the exchequer. Most seats in the department, spread across three floors of Unnayan Bhavan, were empty with almost half the workday still to go.
On previous visits too, Metro had found little sign of life, let alone work, across the department. Tables in some of the rooms had a thick layer of dust, suggesting nobody had used them for a while.
“You have to come between noon and 3pm to meet anyone from the SSEP team,” an official in another wing of the CMDA said, suggesting that those who deign to turn up for the sake of attendance have a three-hour timetable at best.
Chief Justice A.K. Mishra shouldn’t be surprised. He had said on Friday that work culture, or the lack of it, had made it pointless for the judiciary to intervene whenever someone called a strike or a bandh.
He did not mention Bengal but the statement struck a chord in this state of shutdowns and siesta, an infamy for which Mamata Banerjee never ceases to blame the Left Front.
A peek into how the SSEP functions — or doesn’t — might be more worthwhile. This CMDA wing was set up in 1984 under Phase III of the Calcutta Urban Development Programme, whose objective was to arrange for loans to small-scale entrepreneurs after confirming the viability of the proposed projects.
The programme did benefit many but became redundant after the central government started a similar scheme for small-scale entrepreneurs in urban areas. “Loans are now offered under the Swarna Jayanti Sahari Rojgar Yojana,” said a CMDA official.
While there has been no recruitment for several years, those that remain in service from among the original lot of 90 employees continue to reap the benefits of the no-work-and-all-pay regime.
Sources said the Trinamul union wrote to minister Hakim on July 17 last year, claiming that the SSEP was still an important part of the CMDA and had helped disburse loans amounting to Rs 60 lakh in 2011-12. “Most of the 27 programme assistants in the department are on the verge of retirement. They are very reluctant to join a new set-up,” an official said.
These employees get a monthly pay of between Rs 30,000 and Rs 39,000. And for all the work that they don’t need to do and get paid for, there is a pension waiting at the end of the rainbow.