A senior IAS officer has been for the past 10 months serving “punishment” for writing a letter to the Centre seeking permission for a Kolkata-based conglomerate to conduct an “aerial reconnaissance (survey)” to find iron ore in West Bengal, a state not known to have this natural resource.
The 1996-batch officer, Somesh Bhattacharya, who was then Secretary in the department of commerce and industries, was put on Compulsory Waiting a month after he wrote to the union ministry of steel and mines in September 2013 “without consulting (then) minister (Partha Chatterjee), according to the sources.
Chatterjee, who had reportedly flown into a rage upon learning about the letter, even claiming that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, too, had taken umbrage at the officer’s step, said Bhattacharya “should have been reinstated by now”.
“Before writing the letter, he (Bhattacharya) should have taken (my) permission. He did not do this and that is why action was taken against him. But I believe by this time he should have been reinstated,” Chatterjee, currently the education minister, told this correspondent.
Incidentally, the minister had asked Bhattacharya to withdraw the letter immediately, which the official did. But a month later (in October 2013), Bhattacharya was put on compulsory waiting and has been travelling every day since to the department of personnel only to sign the attendance register.
Days before Bhattacharya wrote to the ministry, Adhunik Group, a Rs 3,500 crore conglomerate engaged in steel, mining and power, had approached the state government seeking permission to conduct an aerial reconnaissance to find iron ore in the districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.
While it is the ministry of mines that ultimately grants the permission, the state government has to first send a recommendation.
And this is what Bhattacharya sought to do in his capacity as the secretary of the department of commerce and industries, only he did not “consult” his minister (Chatterjee).
Bhattacharya’s explanation was that secretaries in the past have been known to act on their own and send recommendations when there were “valid reasons” for recommending such cases.
According to him, he had only forwarded the recommendations of the district magistrates concerned, who had cited the possibility of iron ores being available in their districts. He also said what he did was for the development of the state and it was within the policies of the state government.
Incidentally, another official, Sitaram Nandy, deputy secretary in the commerce and industries department, too, was similarly removed from the post for “siding” with Bhattacharya.
Nandy, too, has not got any posting for the past three months.
In a latest instance of an official sent to compulsory waiting, IAS officer Kiran Kumar Godala was put on one after he was arrested on charges of misappropriation of public funds in Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA).
A top official of Adhunik, which has got iron ore and manganese ore mines in Jharkhand and Orissa, said they followed all rules and norms while requesting for the permission.
“We approached the state government because we were genuinely interested. The West Bengal Mineral Development and Trading Corporation had given their nod, as it is needed for such survey. We don’t want to comment on the state government’s actions regarding its officials, but what we can say is that we followed all rules,” the official said.