After a 16-month stint as the city’s municipal commissioner, IAS officer Subodh Kumar will now move on to an active life of superannuation, heading an independent government body to monitor the construction of his brainchild, the coastal freeway. Sitaram Kunte, the incumbent municipal commissioner for the BMC, replaced him yesterday.
Before being conferred the title of municipal commissioner, Kunte was the principal secretary of the planning department in the state government.
Kunte told MiD DAY, “I am taking over the responsibilities today itself, as soon as Kumar leaves. I haven’t formulated a plan of action yet, but I would surely bring about positive change in the city. I have busied myself with that work already.”
Kunte was chosen from among a handful of potential candidates, some of them being T C Benjamin, Amit Kumar Jain and Gautam Chatterjee, all of whom are working as secretaries with the state government. “Kunte knows about the workings of the BMC as he was an additional municipal commissioner for the civic body. Also, his closeness to the Central government is known to many, and that may be the reason he was conferred the post,” said a senior state government official. Kunte had earlier worked as the secretary to Vilasrao Deshmukh, when he was the chief minister.
A senior official confirmed that the outgoing commissioner Kumar would now be in charge of a body responsible for the construction of the planned coastal road project. In his stint as the municipal commissioner — including the controversial three-month-long extension for the BMC elections this year – Kumar appears to have done enough to earn the respect of his subordinates.
“He was strict and disciplined, and expected the same from the entire staff. Although he had a short and sudden term, he has left his mark on the city. He will be remembered as the commissioner who tried to change the workings of the system, as well as transform the face of the city,” said a senior BMC official. Although Kumar retired from government service on January 31 this year, his term was extended for three months. Kumar has brought about radical changes to the property tax system and housing regulations, besides increasing the civic body’s revenue by a whopping Rs 3,000 crore. Kumar also laid down higher octroi collection targets, and snubbed the builders’ lobby when necessary.
He also held his own in the face of threats from union leaders regarding the sixth pay commission, and came down hard on lazy or undisciplined corporators. Some activists in the city opined that Kumar should have been appointed earlier to impose a measure of control on the wayward civic body. Aftab Siddiqui, an activist from Bandra, said, “Although strict, he held his virtues close to him and brought about changes that nobody ever thought of. The errant builders’ lobby will now rejoice at his departure. He has done laudable things. The man will be missed.” D M Sukhtankar, chairman of the organisation AGNI, said, “We welcome Kumar to join us in our work for the improvement of the city after his retirement, as he is brilliant in finance management and building proposals. His contribution would help better the city,” he said.
Addressing the media after his appointment, Kunte said that the first targets he had set himself included nullah cleaning, improvement of roads, and control of malaria, all of which would occupy him during the monsoon. “As the monsoons are round the corner, I have to take care of monsoon related issues,” he said. He also lauded Kumar for his impressive and dynamic tenure. “I have taken on a challenge to continue his work, and I will do it. This is part of the continuous process,” he said. He also thanked the chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar for his appointment.
— With inputs by Sujit Mahamulkar