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Calcutta, Feb. 3: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government chose a bandh day to signal mobility in Writers’ Buildings, the ageing secretariat shouldering the bulk of ministers and babus.
The information technology department was relocated this morning in a new building on Camac Street that will serve as an extension of Writers’.
After presiding over the shift of the infotech department, which is close to the heart of the chief minister who is striving to live down Bengal’s image as tech shy, Bhattacharjee said: “A new, spacious building will result in a new zest for our employees.”
Several other departments, like health and transport, are in the shift mode, probably to infuse that “zest” in the workforce. The health department will shift to Swasthya Bhavan in Salt Lake tomorrow.
The relocation comes about two years after a similar exercise at Raj Bhavan. Offices of the rural development and panchayat affairs department were shifted out of the governor’s house over several months.
The “liberation” of Raj Bhavan from Writers’ started during the tenure of then governor Shyamal Sen and gained momentum after Viren. J. Shah assumed office.
After its success in easing the burden on Raj Bhavan, the government decided to implement the same plan at Writers’.
The transport department, officials said, is looking for a new address and the minister, Subhas Chakraborty, wants it to be somewhere near the airport. But the officials added that relocating an entire department is not easy, even if the exercise is aimed at adding zest.
Sources said the message that the government intended to convey with today’s shift was clear. Besides the obvious one to the CPM’s main adversary — that the government could not be bothered by the Trinamul Congress’ disruptive agenda — there was a subtler message for its own employees.
“Leaders of the Coordination Committee, the union of government employees owing allegiance to the CPM, have all along tried to push back the shift of the health department,” said an official. “The firm government stand forced them to back off.”
The government, said a public works department official, has “firm” plans to reduce the population of Writers’ to half its present strength in about six months. The brick-red structure on Dalhousie Square accommodates 48 departments and has an average daily footfall of more than 10,000.
The rush to Writers’ contributes to a great extent to the traffic chaos in the central business district, said an official.
The chaos is no less in the corridors of power. The numerous makeshift cubicles have been identified as fire hazards. “Once the number of offices at Writers’ goes down, the government can do away with the cubicles,” the official added. “The government is committed to decongesting the entire area as this district is falling apart under pressure. What better way to start than relocating offices from Writers’'”
However, the relocation of the IT, health and transport departments will not set a precedent. The departments of urban development, education and irrigation have already moved to Salt Lake; food and civil supplies and consumer affairs have moved to Free School Street. The power department is now in the New Secretariat Building.
Writers’, which once had more than 8,000 employees trooping in every morning, now has about 5,500 people reporting for duty.
“We plan to shift 1,500 more employees with the changes that we have proposed,” said a senior official.