Calcutta, Aug. 9: Bengal’s babudom, which blocked many a revamp plan for Writers’ in the past in true civil service style, has eventually had to turn tail before a no-nonsense boss.
Mamata Banerjee’s initiative to relocate at least 17 departments and directorates from the congested, 236-year-old state secretariat to Howrah too had initially evoked a semblance of resistance and a slew of excuses.
But the babus had reckoned without the chief minister’s impatience with doubters and her readiness to crack the whip to bring the employees’ unions to heel.
The Writers’ renovation plan, which will move nearly two-thirds of a workforce of around 6,000 out and pull down eyesores added over the years, was mooted in mid-2012.
Immediately, the rumblings grew about how impossible the task was: how on earth would the employees make it to Howrah; how would visitors from the districts do so….
Ministers were persuaded to take the matter up with the chief secretary and then the chief minister. But as it became clear she would brook no dissent, the babus fell in line.
Writers’ officials said the chief minister had already begun to take care of the other potential pocket of resistance: the unions. A series of strong measures, all following the rulebook, did the trick.
The supporters of the pro-CPM Co-ordination Committee suffered a hit when nearly 65,000 employees had a day’s salary deducted for skipping work during the Left-sponsored general strike of February 28 last year. Later, several powerful union leaders were either show-caused or transferred out of Writers’.
“It was proved that even the mighty union leaders at Writers’ could be reined in. It had a telling effect also on the babus,” an official said. The Trinamul union would in any case not have dared to take on their “supreme leader”.
Mamata then began giving final shape to her plan. First, the forests and fisheries departments, resisting a Writers’ exit since the Left had ordered them out in 2008, were asked to move to Salt Lake.
“The chief minister did not entertain any request to reconsider,” an official said.
When Sanjay Mitra took over as chief secretary last October, the plan got a renewed momentum. In March, the departments of environment, self-help groups and western region development were told to vacate Writers’ by June 30.
When western region minister Sukumar Hansda requested his PWD colleague and the chief secretary for a rethink, he was asked to approach the chief minister. He didn’t dare and moved out in July. Animal resources development and transport too will shift soon.
Unlike the days of Left rule, the employees have remained silent. “This is because the unions’ wings have been clipped,” an animal resource development employee said.
The Left, after relocating education and health at the turn of the century, had tried to rid Writers’ of other departments but was foiled by a section of ministers, bureaucrats and employees, an official said.
In 2006, West Midnapore satrap Susanta Ghosh, then western region minister, had defied chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to continue to work from Writers’.
In 2008, forests and fisheries claimed that Salt Lake was too far away. Environment argued that Parivesh Bhavan was too small to share with the forest department. Eventually, their directorates were sent to Salt Lake but the departments stayed put at Writers’.
This time, though, the babus will have to swallow their natural impulse against all movement and shift to Howrah, sooner or later.