The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ministers face austerity axe

Calcutta, Oct. 6: After impelling officials to cut costs in the wake of the crippling financial crisis, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is expected to make ministers toe the austerity line at the Cabinet meeting slated for Wednesday.

Several ministers said today the issue might figure on top of the agenda for the meeting being convened following finance minister Asim Dasgupta’s announcement of a slew of austerity measures to mop up an additional Rs 750 crore in six months. They also admitted that the matter might come up at the Cabinet core committee meeting the same day.

Last week, Dasgupta said at Writers’ Buildings that the government would curb revenue expenditure by imposing restrictions on the use of cars, telephones and air-conditioners from the level of joint secretaries downwards and the heads of various government undertakings.

Asked if the ministers would be spared, Dasgupta had said the chief minister would address the issue. The finance minister will be present at tomorrow’s Left Front meeting to explain the necessity of curbs on expenditure under various heads.

As part of the government’s efforts to enforce austerity in its ranks, Bhattacharjee has convened a meeting of secretaries and principal secretaries at the Cabinet Room tomorrow.

“We received a two-line note from the home secretary asking us to be present at the meeting where the chief minister will discuss the state’s financial crunch and how to tide over the crisis,” said the principal secretary of a key department.

State home secretary Amit Kiran Deb said the chief minister would explain to the departmental secretaries the necessity of cutting costs. “We have already asked officials below the joint secretary level to minimise expenditure,” he added.

But several joint secretaries are learnt to have resented the manner in which they have been asked to share a car with two others of their rank for drops from home to office and back.

“Many of the joint secretaries have already complained that they have been undergoing a harrowing experience as the pool car system is yet to be put in place,” said an official.

At government undertakings like the Calcutta Tramways Company and the Calcutta State Transport Corporation the restrictions on the use of official cars and telephones have come into force from October 1. “We are strictly adhering to the circular issued by the finance department,” said Tramways chief Sudhir De.

However, the austerity drive is yet to catch up with both Calcutta police and the West Bengal Police Directorate. Government officials alleged that the policemen were using cars and phones flouting the finance department’s circular. Asked about restrictions on pick-up cars for police officials, additional commissioner of police, Calcutta, D. Sarengi said: “Though the finance department’s circular is yet to reach us, we have imposed certain restrictions.”

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