The Telegraph
Saturday , August 30 , 2014
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WBCS sops in poll run-up

Calcutta, Aug. 29: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today announced initiatives that offer better career prospects and pecuniary benefits to West Bengal Civil Service (WBCS) officers, many of whom are aggrieved at the government’s inability to clear dearness allowance (DA) dues.

Sources in the government said the sops were timed “smartly” as many WBCS officers would play a vital role in the 2016 Assembly poll process.

“BDOs are the face of the administration. The poor don’t know me, they don’t see me every day. They see you, they know you, they trust you…. If you do your job well, the government will perform better,” the chief minister said at the WBCS (Executive) Officers’ Association’s annual general meeting at Howrah’s Sarat Sadan this afternoon.

During her 40-minute address to the 1,000-strong audience, Mamata stressed the importance of the cadre, which forms “the backbone of the administration”.

“She can’t clear DA dues in a hurry, but she will try to compensate us in other ways. That was the message,” a BDO from Burdwan said.

While central government employees get 90 per cent of basic and grade pay as DA, their Bengal counterparts receive 58 per cent. According to Bengal government sources, the state treasury will have to shell out Rs 9,600 crore annually to bridge the gap of 32 per cent at one go.

The Trinamul government has so far announced three instalments of DA. In January 2012, the state had released 10 per cent DA and in January 2013 and January 2014, two more tranches of 6 per cent each were paid. During that period, the Centre gave five DA instalments.

“Bengal government employees get the lowest DA in the country. Training in Singapore won’t put more money in our pockets…. The eight-year mid-term increment at least means something. Earlier, we got only one mid-term increment, after completing 16 years of service. Now, we will get two,” a WBCS officer said.

Sources in the government said the decision to give more power to WBCS officers by having two DMs and at least three departmental secretaries from the cadre at any given time was a “crucial” one. The number of joint secretaries has been increased to 215 from 165.

Not only do the 1,600-odd WBCS officers form the lower rungs of the administration, the role of the 341 BDOs and 51 SDOs is significant during Assembly polls. BDOs double as assistant returning officers while SDOs are appointed returning officers.

An Election Commission official termed WBCS officers the “eyes, ears, hands and feet” of the panel during Assembly polls.

“For instance, returning officers have the discretionary power to accept or reject nominations and disqualify ineligible candidates following scrutiny,” he said.

A Nabanna source attributed another reason to the focus on WBCS officers. According to him, Mamata knows that the Left lobby is still a “dominant force” among the WBCS cadre.

“The sops are possibly her way of trying to lure away the Left sympathisers in the administration,” he said.