Public servants need freedom of work

Ravikiran DeshmukhPublic servants, an integral part of Parliamentary democracy, are required to discharge duties in public interest while adhering to the framework of rules. But two recent political developments — involving assistant police commissioner Vasant Dhoble and Debashish Chakrabarty, principal secretary of the state housing department - have prompted a debate on the role of public servants (bureaucracy and the police) and their freedom of work.

While anger spilled on the streets after the state government decided to transfer Dhoble from Vakola following a controversy over the death of a hawker, IAS officer Chakrabarty came into news after a case was registered against him over his involvement in an SRA scam.

Dhoble was transferred after a strong protest lodged by local Congress leaders including Priya Dutt and Kripashanakar Singh, who represents the area where Dhoble was conducing an eviction drive against hawkers, in Lok Sabha and the state assembly respectively. The hawkers were up in arms about Dhoble’s no-holds-barred style of working. As NCP’s Deputy CM Ajit Pawar said, the decision to transfer Dhoble was Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s, a Congressman.

Pawar shrewdly distanced his party and colleague Home Minister RR Patil from the blame of transferring Dhoble, due to the public outcry. Ever since residents of Santacruz and Vile Parle have stormed the streets in support of Dhoble, Congressmen have been maintaining a discreet silence, wondering whether to support hawkers or the public sentiments against them. 

Opposition Shiv Sena quickly jumped into the fray and came out in support of Dhoble. But its ally BJP supported the illegal hawkers: the party cannot afford to ignore its vote bank of north Indians. BJP’s city unit chief Raj Purohit backed the government action against Dhoble.

Interestingly, the atmosphere was not the same when Dhoble was relieved of his posting from the social services branch, from where he orchestrated his crackdown on bars and pubs. Almost all political parties were united in the call for his ouster because he was rounding up customers. Hotel owners routinely face cases of various violations but action against customers brings their business to a halt. And it’s a known fact that various politicians own hotels and the action was affecting the business.

All said and done, it has to be accepted that Dhoble was working within the parameters of law, as violations would not have been tolerated by his bosses. Action against Dhoble has certainly raised a pertinent question: whether babus in Mantralaya should handle police transfers directly, bypassing the commissioner.

The BJP, which has been opposing action on Dhoble, has been exposed of dual standards. While its leaders support the action against Dhoble, one of its MLAs is seeking to protect IAS officer Chakrabarty, embroiled in an SRA land scam. In a letter to the chief minister, BJP MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha, who represents Malabar Hill, has referred to a recent case filed by the Worli police against principal secretary of the state housing department, Debashish Chakrabarty.

According to him, screening of intentions of the officers should be done before filing cases against them. The matter against Chakrabarty pertains to his role while approving an SRA scheme at a prime location close to Nehru Centre, Worli as the chief executive officer of the authority a few years back. The case has been registered following a court directive. The decision came after residents of Mariamma Nagar approached the court after no government authority heard their complaints against the scheme.

According to Lodha, whose kin are associated with Lodha Developers — which is executing some of the projects — ‘officers work according to government regulations,’ and the CM should take personal interest in this case, for smooth execution of works. Such cases affect the morale and competence of officers, the MLA argued, adding that if steps are not taken urgently all the welfare work in the state will come to a halt as officers would be reluctant to take decisions.

In his letter Lodha speaks about Chakrabarty alone and not about the other officers named in the police case. Interestingly, no politician spoke on a controversy involving a former CEO of the SRA. The executive officer had issued a letter of intent to a prominent developer for slum redevelopment scheme on 40 hectares in the island city when the approval given by the housing department was for 23 hectares. Support for Chakrabarty is against the grain of the logic that seeks to impale Dhoble, when both the officers are equally bound by service regulations.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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