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Transfer avenue to check errant union leaders

- Service rule change on anvil to keep leash on employees’ outfits

Calcutta, Jan. 10: The state government is in the process of stripping secretariat employees — who are mostly clerical staff — of the privilege of getting postings in departmental headquarters in Calcutta, apparently to strike at the heart of union activities in offices.

The Mamata Banerjee government has proposed an amendment to the West Bengal Service (Secretariat Common Cadres) Rules, 1984, introduced by the Left government, to remove a clause that shields the secretariat employees from being transferred to the districts. Most union leaders belong to this cadre.

Once the amendment is passed, the state government will have the power to transfer the secretariat employees to faraway places, a tool to discipline errant employees.

The proposed amendment — drafted by the finance department — has got the clearance of the law department and has been sent to Raj Bhavan for the governor’s assent.

“A notification to bring the changes in the service rules is expected to be issued soon after the governor gives his assent,” a government official said. Senior officials said state-level leaders of various unions had enjoyed the benefit of the service rule clause to avoid transfer and lead unions year after year.

The previous government had framed the service rules to protect leaders of the Co-ordination Committee, an umbrella organisation of Left unions, from being shunted out of Calcutta, the officials said.

The secretariat employees are recruited through exams conducted by the state public service commission and get postings on the basis of rank. While those at the top of the list are inducted into the secretariat service cadre and get postings in Calcutta, the others are recruited into the directorate cadre and posted in the districts. Directorate cadre employees can be transferred to any district, except Calcutta.

Lower division assistants (clerks are called assistants in the secretariat service), upper division assistants, typists, head assistants, section officers, registrars and special officers belong to the secretariat cadre.

All prominent government employees’ union leaders have come from the secretariat service, their hegemony stemming from the immunity from transfer.

“Every union has three tires — block, district and state. The secretariat employees occupy the state-level posts and spend their entire career in departmental headquarters, all of whom are either in Writers’ or other offices in Calcutta,” an official said.

“They (the leaders) knew they could not be transferred to the districts. They often resorted to strongarm tactics to get their demands accepted. This often tarnished the image of the government and ruined Bengal’s work culture,” he added.

As part of its objective to improve work culture in government offices, the Trinamul government has decided to break the hegemony of the union leaders by amending the service rules.

The Mamata government recently stripped the union leaders of their right to take special casual leaves to hold conferences. It also stopped the practice of taking casual leaves on strike days, penalising government employees for doing so.

A Nabanna source said the chief minister was unhappy with secretariat service leaders for challenging in the state administrative tribunal her decision to showcause employees who skipped office on the day of a bandh called by the CPM in February 2012.

“Around 1,000 secretariat employees had replied to the showcause notice, saying they did not attend office because they supported the cause of the bandh. The government could not take much action against them except for deducting a day’s salary,” the source said.

Once the secretariat employees are stripped of the immunity from transfer to the districts, the government will be able to weaken the unions and their control over employees, the source added.

Ananta Banerjee, a former general secretary of the Co-ordination Committee who spent his 37-year career at different department headquarters in Calcutta, said the government’s move would not affect leaders of the Left unions.

“All our leaders in the districts were transferred soon after the change in power. But I think this did not affect our organisation. Similarly, the state-level leadership will not face any problem,” he said.

Two top leaders of a Left-leaning union were transferred to Darjeeling and Haldia after they led an agitation at Nabanna during a visit by YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy on November 20 last year.

“But the process was not smooth for the government. One of the employees has moved the state administrative tribunal, citing the clause that shields them against transfer. The transfer order is yet to be implemented,” an official said.