Calcutta, Oct. 5: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has appointed all seven former Union ministers of her party as advisers to a council that will “advise the government on specific sectors”.
The announcement has prompted several officials and some ministers to raise questions in private on the final structure of the chain of command and whether multiple bosses would be at play.
“Under orders of the chief minister, an advisory council to be called the chief minister’s advisory council on economic and social development is hereby constituted with the following persons to advise the government on specific sectors
” said an order attributed to Samar Ghosh, the chief secretary who retired a few days ago, and circulated by Ghosh’s successor Sanjay Mitra.
The list of advisers (see chart) includes Dinesh Trivedi, the former rail minister who had to quit after he proposed a hike in rail fares in his maiden budget and is said to be the first speaker at last month’s Town Hall meeting who advocated pullout from the UPA. The other six are the ministers who quit the Manmohan Singh ministry last month after Mamata withdrew support. All seven remain MPs.
“I welcome every step that benefits the state and industry,” said minister Partha Chatterjee, whose industry and IT sectors will be advised by Saugata Roy.
But a retired bureaucrat said: “I cannot recall any instance of such a committee.”
The Prime Minister, too has an economic advisory council but its members are drawn from the field of economics and it is headed by former RBI governor C. Rangarajan. Except for Saugata Roy, none of the new Bengal government advisers can stake claim to exemplary performance as ministers.
Another striking difference is the allocation of sectoral responsibilities. The Prime Minister’s council advises him, analyses macroeconomic developments and submits reports and attends to any task set by him. But the members of Mamata’s council have been allotted specific sectors that are already under a specific minister, which has caused confusion.
At least one minister told The Telegraph that he thought the new council would advise only the chief minister. But officials who have read the order pointed out that it leaves enough scope to monitor daily activities of the specific departments.
“The order says ‘to advise the government’, not just the chief minister. So, the members can advise a specific department also,” an official said.
The official pointed out that the order also mentions that “the department concerned with the specific sector shall render all co-operation and assistance and also provide secretariat assistance, including office space, to the individual members of the council. The department may nominate a nodal officer who would immediately get in touch with the members”.
He added: “This suggests that the advisers can monitor daily activities of the departments. Officials of the departments will now be confused as they will have two bosses.”
Another official said: “This will create confusion as the officials will not know whether to take orders from the advisers or from the ministers.”
As the order did not mention if the advisers would derive any pecuniary or other benefits, there was no clarity on whether their membership of Parliament will be at risk.
According to Article 102 (1)(A) of the Constitution, an MP or an MLA is barred from holding any office of profit under the Government of India or in any state other than an office specifically exempted by law.
“This will not come under the purview of office of profit,” said a senior state government officer.
If at all a legal question arises, the state government can exempt the appointments by passing a bill.
But clearing the opacity over the command structure in administration will be easier said than done. Senior officials said the new move would complicate day-to-day activities and delay the decision-making process.
An official said the situation would be more tricky for departments where groups of ministers (GoM) are trying to resolve issues. He cited the example of the transport department, which will be advised by Mukul Roy.
“It has a GoM made up by Partha Chatterjee, Amit Mitra and Manish Gupta to decide if a bus fare hike is required. The minister has to report to the GoM and the GoM reports to the chief minister. Now will the GoM have to report to Mukul Roy?” the official asked.
The adviser’s experience will also come into question. “For example, Sisir Adhikari has been tasked to advise the rural development department of Subrata Mukherjee, who has much more experience than the MP in governance. Why would Subratada need the suggestions of Sisirda?” asked a minister.
Space crunch is another issue. After the order was issued, Mukul Roy today inspected the chamber of the irrigation minister — vacant since Congress’s Manas Bhunia quit the state cabinet. “Where will the new irrigation minister sit?” wondered an official.