Unfulfilled once, sealed now

CM's aide is elevated as principal secretary

By Pranesh Sarkar in Calcutta
  • Published 27.06.15

Calcutta, June 26: The secretary to chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been promoted as principal secretary - the first instance in the state of a central secretariat service officer being named to the post reserved for senior IAS officers.

Goutam Sanyal will now be principal secretary in the chief minister's office, sources said, pointing out that an earlier attempt to elevate him had fallen through because of procedural objections raised by the then chief secretary.

In a state, a central secretariat service officer can be promoted up to the level of secretary, not principal secretary, which is one rung above. Central secretariat service officers, recruited by a central service commission, are expected to follow orders from IAS officers and not participate in policy planning.

Sources at Nabanna said the personnel and administrative reforms department had issued the order yesterday after Mamata Banerjee signed a file that chief secretary Sanjay Mitra had initiated.

Mamata had attempted to appoint Sanyal, whom she had warmed to during her first tenure as railway minister in 1999, as principal secretary when she brought him in from Delhi in 2011 to manage her office. But then chief secretary Samar Ghosh had opposed the move, saying it would violate rules.

"The chief minister was very upset with Ghosh, but she had to swallow it as the chief secretary could not have been overruled," recalled an officer who was privy to the developments then.

Sanyal, who had served as Mamata's personal secretary when she was railway minister, therefore, had to be content with the post of secretary to the chief minister.

"The chief minister wrote in the file that he could be made a secretary for the time being, which meant that she did not give up on her plan.... She also forced the chief secretary to issue an unprecedented order in which Sanyal's tenure was marked as coterminous with the chief minister's," a retired IAS officer said.

Even after retirement from service, Sanyal continues in the post. According to the rules, a retired officer can be brought back as officer on special duty, not as principal secretary. "He is a retired officer. So giving him a promotion flouts the rulebook. Besides, a central secretariat service officer cannot be given the rank of principal secretary," an IAS officer said.

In spite of repeated attempts, chief secretary Mitra could not be reached for comment today.

Sanyal's elevation comes within days of Mitra being overlooked by the cabinet appointments committee for the post of secretary or equivalent at the Centre.

"Sanyal's appointment as principal secretary would surely make the chief minister happy," an IAS officer said.

The order on Sanyal has caught bureaucrats by surprise because the chief secretary, who had worked in the PMO for a long time and is well versed in the norms, initiated the promotion.

"He had recently opposed the reappointment of retired IAS officer A.K. Singh as the land reforms commissioner. His reservations were overlooked and Singh was reappointed as the commissioner for three months," a senior bureaucrat said.

Although the latest order was kept under wraps, the news spread like wildfire among bureaucrats.

"The note was issued by the chief secretary yesterday morning and the order was issued last evening.... The file moved fast," a source said.

While Sanyal gets the rank of principal secretary, he will get financial benefits that go with the rank of secretary in the face of opposition from the IAS lobby.

"Most of the department secretaries are of the rank of principal secretary. It was not possible for Sanyal to stamp his authority in front of them as he held the rank of secretary. Now, even though he will not get any financial benefits, he will have the authority," said a retired bureaucrat who had often talked to Sanyal.

Although policy planning is part of the duties of an IAS officer at the principal secretary level, Sanyal might not be called upon to do so because he is part of the CMO where the major decisions are taken by the chief secretary in consultation with the chief minister.