CHANDIGARH: By carrying out an extensive administrative reshuffle involving more than 25 top secretaries of the Punjab government, the Chief Minister, Beant Singh, has tried to send across a message to the bureaucracy that the Congress government is firmly in the saddle and means business.

During 57 months of uninterrupted Presidents rule -the longest in the history of any state in independent India the bureaucracy had become all powerful in the troubled state. Some of the officers, especially those in the districts, had not been shifted for up to four years. Many of them survived even the frequent change of Governors and had become so entrenched in their seats that they had begun to treat their departments as personal fiefdoms. Little wonder that there were countless complaints of corruption groupism and maladministration but all of them were consigned to the labyrinth of redtapism.

A large number of officers had lulled themselves into the belief that elections would not be held in Punjab. Even after these were ordered earlier this year, they hoped against hope that something would interrupt the poll process as had happened in June last year.

When the electoral process was completed and the Beant Singh Government was installed in office, a whispering campaign began in the bureaucracy about the “legitimacy” of a government which had secured only a small percentage of the total votes in the state. Many of the ministers privately complained that their officers had not reconciled themselves to their presence in the civil secretariat. They treated them with disdain and resisted their instructions. Some officers had not cared to give a comprehensive briefing to their ministers about their departments.

The ministers, therefore, complained that even after the installation of a popular government, it was the bureaucracy which continued to call the shots in the state. That the bureaucracy was not very enthusiastic about the new government was obvious from the fact that it made only half-hearted attempts to arrange rooms for ministers in the civil secretariat.

Many of the ministers and their personal staff remained without rooms for days. It was the same story as regards the provisions of residential accommodation for them in the city. Even the Chief Minister had to stay in his cramped one-room flat in the Congress Bhavan in Sector 15 for well over a month before he shifted to the Chief Ministers official residence in Sector 2 vacated by the former Akali Chief Minister, Surjit Singh Barnala. But most of the ministers are still putting up in single rooms in Punjab Bhavan.

The administrative reshuffle was expected for a long time and the Chief Minister had himself hinted about it on more than one occasion. But the suddenness with which it was announced took everyone by surprise. Beant Singh signed the orders regarding the replacement of the Chief Secretary. The second batch of transfers and postings involving the top 25 officers were signed, The government was keen to ensure that the administrative reshuffle was published in the next day’s newspapers before pressure for changes begins building upon politicians.

The next phase of the reshuffle involving managing directors of corporations, directors of departments and district administrations will be announced only after the first phase has been implemented.

Many officers are reported to be unhappy with their new assignments, The outgoing Chief Secretary, Tejinder Khanna, has proceeded on leave rather than join as Officer on Special Duty and Administrative Member of the state administrative tribunal which is yet to be established in the state. He is likely to intensify his efforts for a posting in Delhi,

Article extracted from this publication >> May 15, 1992