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Bungle on bill exposes babus
- Officials in the dark on governor rule

Calcutta, Dec. 18: The Bengal bureaucracy’s inadequacies were on display today when the government was forced to withdraw a bill meant for the welfare of unorganised workers.

The fiasco — rarely seen in recent memory — occurred because the labour department “did not know” the governor’s permission had to be sought before tabling a bill with financial implications.

The bill may still be tabled this session but the gaffe brings back under the glare bureaucratic incompetence often blamed for the comatose status of the “do-it-now” drive launched with fanfare when Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took over as chief minister.

Ministers blamed officials for the bill blunder, not missing a chance to get even with rulebook-bound bureaucrats and trying to pre-empt an Opposition furore.

The West Bengal Unorganised Sector Workers Welfare Bill was scheduled to come up for a two-hour discussion in the House at 1.15pm today. However, Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim adjourned the House for the day after learning that the government did not get the governor’s consent.

“Technical difficulties stood in the way. There might have been one or two such instances in the past but I can’t remember,” the Speaker said.

The government managed to get the governor’s nod at 4pm — which means it could have been managed easily earlier but for the slip-up.

Minister of state for labour Anadi Sahu, supposed to pilot the bill, attributed the oversight to a “communication gap” and “misconception of some officials”.

But government chief whip Syed Mohammad Masih did not mince words and held the labour secretary responsible. “It was the sheer irresponsibility and callousness of the labour secretary that led to the lapse. He doesn’t know the rules. How could he afford to be so ignorant?”

Labour secretary Subesh Das said: “We did not know that the governor’s permission was required for introduction and discussion on this bill.” The official is the brother of IT minister Debesh Das.

Expressing surprise, Dipak Rudra, a retired IAS officer, said the incident was a reflection of the “poor secretarial work” at Writers’ Buildings. “Routing a bill with financial involvement through the governor is standard procedure. It shows that the back-up offices of the departments are not performing properly,” Rudra added.

Bureaucratic shortcomings have often landed the government in procedural trouble in courts, too.

But the “award” for the best poker-faced statement of the year goes to the state home secretary, who said he learned about Taslima Nasreen’s departure from Calcutta “from TV”. Some unkind souls at Writers’ had then muttered: “We believe him.”

Law minister Rabilal Moitra put the onus of seeking the governor’s consent on the labour department.

The bill involves financial issues like provident fund and pension for unorganised workers. The Left Front government was eager to get the bill passed because the alliance had asked the UPA to pass a similar national law.

Masih said the Speaker and the business advisory committee could decide tomorrow whether the bill would be introduced now or in the budget session next year.

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