Fearless Five set example - Collectors defy political pressure in appointments

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By G.C. SHEKHAR
  • Published 12.07.12
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Chennai, July 11: Four young district collectors have dared to defy pressure from AIADMK politicians in recruiting staff for anganwadis and noon-meal centres where 61 lakh children are fed for free every day.

The fearless four have chosen to follow in the footsteps of M. Balaji, the Virduhunagar district collector who was the first to ring in a transparent appointment system despite strings pulled by Tamil Nadu ministers and MLAs keen to push their nominees.

Balaji’s punishment transfer has not deterred the four. “There were pressures, both political and from some of our own higher officers, but we did not yield,” said one of the collectors.

There was no co-ordinated move among them, the collector said, only the “burning desire that the right people get the jobs since they would be feeding thousands of children”.

The four are Anshul Mishra of Madurai, Ashish Kumar of Toothukudi, Anu George of Ariyalur and Darez Ahamed of Perambalur.

Their action has stung the politicians, who are said to have promised aspirants jobs in return for bribes of Rs 1-3 lakh, but are now having to return the money.

Balaji had come up with a centralised, eligibility-based system for processing job applications in June, spurning pressure and phone calls from local AIADMK bigwigs. To block backdoor entries after the selection process ended, he had appointment letters delivered to candidates within a week of their interviews.

Bristling after being thwarted, the politicians, including a few ministers, are reported to have got Balaji shunted out of the district on July 2 and placed him on compulsory wait without any posting.

“It is a shame. On the one hand, chief minister Jayalalithaa had taken to task AIADMK’s Chennai councillors for corruption but a straightforward officer like Balaji has been sidelined for doing an honest job,” a senior IAS officer said.

The bigwigs, who had hoped Balaji’s transfer would make others fall in line, got a second jolt when the four district collectors similarly rolled out a transparent selection process, weeding out ineligible and influential candidates.

Anshul Mishra issued a statement saying job aspirants could complain to him directly if anyone demanded money in exchange for the posts. When a widow told him she had paid a bribe of Rs 1.5 lakh, he promised her a job on condition that she retrieved the money.

“Many were misled into believing that they could sell the provisions of the noon-meal centre in black and recover their bribe money, which is just another way of perpetrating a corrupt system,” Mishra said.

Anu George asked tehsildars and BDOs to hand-deliver appointment letters to ensure the right candidates received them.

Darez Ahamed sent officials to check out the social status of candidates and weeded out well-off ones living in big houses but claiming to live in huts.

Such political pressures on appointments are, however, not unique to Tamil Nadu. In Bengal too, similar games are played because MLAs have an important role in job interviews.

“In Bengal, political leaders hardly demand money while recruiting an anganwadi worker or helper as salaries are very poor. Instead, political parties push their supporters for these posts to strengthen their support base,” a Burdwan sub-divisional officer said.

Tamil Nadu is filling up vacancies for 4,373 noon-meal centre organisers, 5,717 cooks and 6,703 assistant cooks. Among these posts, 25 per cent are reserved for widows and the destitute and 25 per cent for internal promotion. Three per cent is reserved for differently abled persons.

The only qualification is a pass in class X for organisers, Class VIII for cooks and Class V for assistants. But they have to reside within a 3km radius of their place of work.

The organisers get a salary of Rs 2,500-5,000, cooks Rs1,300-3,000 and assistant cooks Rs950-Rs2,000. They also get dearness allowance, house rent allowance, city compensatory allowance and medical allowance along with 3 per cent annual increment. They are paid lumpsum retirement benefits.