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Nod to seek consultants’ help for projects

- All departments will be able to hire firms to implement plans and curb corruption

Calcutta, Dec. 25: The government has allowed departments to seek professional advice and assistance from private consultants for efficient implementation of projects and weeding out corruption.

The finance department has issued an order giving all departments the power to hire consultants for an entire gamut of activities, ranging from preparing detailed project reports to their implementation.

Earlier, the West Bengal Financial Rules did not allow departments to hire private agencies for such services. Only the chief minister and the chief secretary could engage consultants to conduct feasibility studies and give advise on specific projects.

“For example, the former chief minister (Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) had appointed McKinsey to get advice on ways to bring investment to sectors such as information technology, tourism and food processing. The decision was taken after a special approval of the finance department,” said a senior official at Nabanna, the new state secretariat.

Another official said the Mamata Banerjee government’s decision to allow all departments to hire consultants was aimed at outsourcing some of its core activities.

Officials said the move would help ease the pressure on the public works department (PWD). Being the only engineering department, it is often bogged down with work as it has to help implement the projects of all other departments, causing delays.

“For example, if the school education department urgently needs a building to be constructed, it can get the job done by a consultant. Earlier, departments did not have the freedom to hire private agencies directly,” an official said.

Now, the PWD prepares project plans and floats tenders inviting construction companies.

Senior government officials said the order to allow departments to hire consultants was the second major step taken by the Trinamul government to restructure the administration after it set up a committee to rationalise the workforce.

“The committee, headed by land reforms commissioner A.K. Singh, will pinpoint the departments where the government has additional employees. Allowing the departments to secure professional help from consultants is a step forward,” an official said.

He said the government would bring out ads seeking expression of interest from consultants for projects.

“We will be able to get professional advice on how to implement projects and avoid legal hassles. There is no bar on hiring legal consultancy firms,” he added.

The official said that had the move been planned earlier, the government could have avoided legal challenges to schemes such as the financial assistance to imams.

A section of officials said hiring consultants would help in preparing better detailed project reports (DPRs) — another area where the state allegedly falters often.

“The government departments often find it difficult to prepare DPRs on time as they lack expertise. Now, they will be able to hire the services of professional agencies,” another official said.

“In 2011, the Centre had chided the state government for not submitting proper DPRs to get money under the Backward Regions Grant Fund,” he added.

The officials said the move to hire consultants would help the government weed out alleged corruption by a section of officials in awarding tenders for infrastructure projects and implementing them.

The Co-ordination Committee, an umbrella organisation of Left-backed employees’ unions, criticised the government’s decision.

Committee leader Pranab Chatterjee said: “We don’t expect anything good from this government. These are nothing but ploys to minimise the role of the government and hand over the reins of projects to private players. This will spell doom as the checks and balances of government procedures will no longer be there.”