Mantralaya desperately needs some space — to implement recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission, which has stipulated the number of members in the state cabinet. Each of these ministers now need offices, and with a headquarter already brimming with babus, new space is hard to create.
The six-storey building received an additional floor to accommodate a record number of ministers, prior to the implementation of the Sarkaria Commission recommendations, during the tenure of CM Sushilkumar Shinde. The building, constructed in the 50s, could barely accommodate 75 ministers and their staffers, before that. A few chambers even had to be constructed on the terrace, which has now been renovated into the seventh floor.
It was observed on a number of occasions that whenever an expansion of the minister’s office or of a secretary level officer took place, sacrifice was made by sections within the state departments, who were stuffed inside the barracks nearby — many of them were even relocated to Bandra or Chembur.
The state’s chief secretary is at the head of the state administration, and is the highest implementing authority for all the decisions taken by the chief minister and his cabinet. The entire bureaucratic body always follows his diktat scrupulously.
The incumbent in the chief secretary’s post, J K Banthia, assumed charge on May 31. Soon after taking over, Banthia prioritised two issues, both with an eye to improve the performance of his subordinates. First, he asked for periodic health check-ups for the entire state workforce. The other matter at the top of his list was to train as many of the senior and junior level officers in IT.
It is a well know fact that though most of the officers at Mantralaya are given gadgets to help them carry out their duties, they fail to use them. The Public Health department began implementation the CS’s first order by organising health camps every month for officers — in the very first camp, approximately 52 new cases of diabetes was detected. Another camp has been scheduled for next week for eye check-ups.
Banthia then issued orders for a well-equipped training centre in Mantralaya for the training of all secretary level officers and junior staffers in IT, so that e-governance can be implemented soon. To accommodate this centre, a hunt for space was started — it was planned that the training centre would be located on the seventh floor, as there was no room available anywhere between the ground floor and mezzanine floor to the sixth floor.
The space earmarked for the training centre was earlier used as a storeroom by the PWD, and then given to the Tourism department a few months ago to accommodate its officers. Incidentally, Chhagan Bhujbal heads both the departments.
The space, which has since been lying virtually unused, can accommodate 35 people, and is big enough to set up a state-of-the-art training centre. However, problems cropped up, as usual. Even though the tourism department is minimally staffed, it has expressed unwillingness to part with it. As the tug of war for space continues between these departments, the training centre, and the ultimate dream of e-governance envisioned by the state government remains a distant dream.
This has always been the case, whenever new concepts have been proposed at the government level. For instance, the biometric system to record the attendance of legislators was rejected, on the ridiculous grounds that legislators found it offensive to give their angutha chhaap. Even now, the bureaucracy is ill at ease about adopting technology, out of fear that their activities, or the lack of it, will be exposed.
Even the e-tendering concept has not been fully accepted by the state departments, despite the clear diktat issued by our CM Prithviraj Chavan. These rejections clearly taint the image of the government – officers, along with their mounds of files and papers, keep shuttling between the offices located in the New Administrative Building, the barracks located at Nariman Point, offices in the Bandra government colony, the new administrative building at Chembur, and Konkan Bhavan at Belapur.
How simple these moves would be if the e-governance system was in place. Taking advantage of the government’s decisions, some of the political parties have been able to block precious space near Mantralaya and at Ensa Hutments in Azad Maidan.
Some of these political parties have hardly any presence in state politics and a few of them have had no representation in the state legislature for years together. Their space, needless to say, is eating into the space required for governance.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY