In the biggest ever bureaucratic reshuffle effected since he took over, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis last week transferred 73 Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers in one stroke.
While doing so, he changed the secretaries heading key departments such as finance, rural development, public works department (which has grappled with a series of scams from the Congress-NCP era), water resources (governs irrigation), environment, food and civil supplies (which will have to handle the crucial issue of rising prices) as well as crucial infrastructure agencies such as City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco), which is building the Navi Mumbai international airport and Maharashtra Industries Development Corporation (MIDC), which is expected to play an important role in realising Fadnavis’ Make in Maharashtra initiative.
While doing so, Fadnavis has handpicked certain officers for the jobs, who will be important in the performance of his government. It also seems Fadnavis has accepted the demands made by some of his colleagues to change the secretaries of their departments. For instance, Food and civil supplies minister Girish Bapat was not getting along well with Deepak Kapoor. Apparently, Bapat and Kapoor had different opinions over the handling of soaring prices of commodities such as pulses. Kapoor, who has earned a reputation in his stints with transport and food and civil supplies departments, will now handle the recently created skills development department. Finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar was not exactly happy with finance secretary SK Srivastava. Fadnavis has now changed the entire top administrative team of the finance department, leaving no room for complaint by Mungantiwar — one of the heavyweights in his cabinet. Officers such as Ashish Kumar Singh and Bhushan Gagrani, who have a reputation of being efficient administrators, will handle key infrastructure assignments such as public works department and Cidco respectively.
The massive reshuffle assumes significance in the wake of the uneasy relationship between the Fadnavis government and the bureaucrats right from Day 1. As soon as he took over as chief minister around 18 months ago, Fadnavis issued a diktat that no officer, who had worked in the ministers’ offices during the 15 years of the Congress-NCP rule, should be appointed by any minister in his government. In his first year in office, there were several occasions when Fadnavis and his cabinet colleagues complained that the bureaucracy was not cooperating with them. The CM also felt the bureaucracy was unable to match his speed and was stuck in the Congress-NCP era. Several BJP ministers would remark in private that the administration, especially the IAS officers, were difficult to deal with. There were some exceptions, but the general feeling was that the senior bureaucrats were not very friendly with the new regime.
It seems the CM has now tried to resolve this issue.
While there could be some exceptions, IAS officers in the Maharashtra cadre are known for being professional in their work. Instead of worrying about the labels on officers, Fadnavis has gone by their ability and past performance. At the same time, by resorting to a massive reshuffle at one go (which is not common in the state administration), he has made it clear to the bureaucracy that there is a change in the political regime in the state.
Now, the onus will be on the politicians running the government to show that they can deliver. The impression is that only Fadnavis and a couple of his ministers are handling their jobs properly, while the rest are still struggling with their departments. With each passing day, there is less time in hand for them to perform because the expectations from the government are quite high.