The Telegraph
Thursday , August 8 , 2013
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Power moves across river

Calcutta, Aug. 7: Come October 1, Writers’ Buildings will no longer be the seat of power.

Mamata Banerjee will move lock, stock and babudom across the Hooghly, emptying the state secretariat for a “few months” for renovation. The power shift will cost the public at least Rs 40 crore.

“All departments currently located at Writers’, including me and my office, will be shifted to the 13-storey HRBC building, located off the second Hooghly Bridge, from October 1. We will be there till renovation at Writers’ is complete,” the chief minister said this evening.

The announcement at a news conference at Writers’ caught even PWD officials by surprise.

Mamata had gone to the Dumurjala Sports Complex at Howrah, accompanied by some cabinet colleagues and officials, earlier in the day to explore the possibility of setting up annexe buildings of the Assembly and the state secretariat on over 35 acres available there. This plan is at a preliminary stage, sources said.

“She came back and convened a meeting of top officials to discuss decongestion of Writers’ and, within minutes, announced the plan of the shift by October 1. We were not aware of the deadline prior to her announcement,” said an official of the public works department, which will have to handle the move.

Mamata’s offices will be on the top two floors of the HRBC building — which was conceived as a garment park — from where she will have a view of the flowing Hooghly and the Calcutta skyline.

The chief minister stressed the need for “decongesting” the state secretariat, where over 6,000 state government employees of 31 departments and directorates work in cramped offices.

“Writers’ has been converted into a tinderbox owing to unplanned construction. The decongestion is required for security purposes also,” Mamata said.

Although she did not elaborate on the “unplanned construction”, sources said the chief minister was referring to four buildings that have come up inside Writers’ post-Independence and which she has often described as an “eyesore” in her close circle.

On July 18, The Telegraph had reported that the government was planning to shift 20-odd departments from Writers’ as part of the chief minister’s dream to renovate the heritage structure by demolishing the four buildings and replacing them with auditoriums and conference halls.

“Shifting some departments from Writers’ to create an enabling work environment has been long overdue. The intention cannot be faulted as there are departments which need not be at the state secretariat,” said a senior officer.

Decongesting Writers’ has been on the agenda for a long time, with some offices being moved out over a decade ago to Salt Lake and elsewhere. There was, however, no overarching plan.

The HRBC building in Howrah, where 17 of the departments will remain while 11 return to Writers’ after the renovation, is a logical choice given its location, a PWD officer said. It’s a seven-and-a-half minute drive from Writers’, close to Santragachhi rail station and there are wide roads leading to the building, the officer said.

But there were questions about why the chief minister abandoned an earlier plan of shifting in phases. The PWD had suggested a phased relocation, as part of which three departments — western region development, environment and self-help groups — were allotted space in Poura Bhavan at Salt Lake.

“Now 28 departments out of the total of 31 will have to be accommodated at the HRBC building, which has to be ready in less than two months. That’s a tall order,” said a PWD official.

Constructed as a garment park, the HRBC building has provisions for production centres and showrooms. A sum of Rs 40 crore has been earmarked to convert it into a building housing the offices of 28 departments.

As the process of shifting involves creating the IT backbone at the new building besides shifting men, machines and lakhs of files, the PWD officers are not sure how they will meet the deadline.

“We were trying to make a foolproof plan on a seamless transfer to the new address. But the chief minister suddenly announced the plan,” said an officer.

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