Last week, Hindustan Times carried stories on the controversy over rural development minister Pankaja Munde’s recommendation to appoint a government officer as civic chief of the twin cities of Mira Road and Bhayander.
The officer is facing a departmental inquiry into allegations of irregularities in his previous tenure as civic chief of Bhiwandi and had been sent to the Nagpur civic body less than a year ago. On the face of it, there is no reason for Munde to lobby for the appointment of a particular person as civic chief in a particular city — she is neither urban development minister nor guardian minister of Thane district — to which the two cities belong.
When Hindustan Times asked Munde about the controversy, she shrugged off the issue saying as a minister she keeps making such recommendations.
Munde may have her reasons why she wanted the officer at that post, but doesn’t it mean political interference in administration matters? If there is a proper system set up in the urban development department (that governs civic bodies) for the appointment of civic chiefs, why must a minister of any other department pressurise them to appoint an officer of his or her choice?
This controversy reminds us of two ugly truths that exist in our state and no political party or politician has been able to get rid this: One is about the postings and transfers in the government and its undertakings and the other is about the chaos that is municipal bodies.
Thanks to anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare’s agitations in the past, Maharashtra has a law on the transfers of government staffers. Under the law, a government employee posted at a particular place cannot be transferred before completing three years in that post and should not be kept in that post for long after his three-year tenure is complete. It could be a matter of research to find out how the law is being implemented since it was formulated. The stakes are very high when it comes to postings and transfers of government staffers. Every minister puts officers of his choice at key postings in his department. If one scrutinises the correspondence of all ministers, one will find a large chunk of letters that are recommendations made by elected representatives for postings of officers they are lobbying for. Every elected representative wants officers of his choice in the local police, revenue administration and district administration.
Then there are some lucrative posts that elected representatives keep lobbying for all the time. The corridors of Mantralaya are full of stories on this transfer industry — postings and transfers are linked to everything from nepotism to cash. The departments with the highest interest in postings/transfers include revenue, police, urban development, irrigation and PWD. This has been the situation during the tenure of various governments and no political party seems to have done anything to stop it.
The other ugly truth is the mess in our civic bodies. If you are under the impression that the civic bodies are about governing cities, you are wrong. They are about contracts worth hundreds of crores of rupees that are of great interest for the corrupt bureaucrats and politicians. They are about clearing the plans and permissions for building construction projects as most cities are witnessing a construction boom.
They are about the percentage system in spending taxpayers’ money. Former chief minister late Vilasrao Deshmukh had once famously said: “The standing committees in our municipal bodies [that have control over civic coffers] are actually understanding committees. All the parties come together and do everything with mutual understanding..!”
Is it a surprise then that bureaucrats lobby hard to get lucrative posts in civic bodies especially in developing cities?
And is it a surprise then that our cities are glaring examples of urban decay with badly built roads full of potholes, missing footpaths, rampant encroachment, stinking garbage bins, overflowing drainage lines, flooding during the monsoons and little respect for urban planning?