Claiming that he has not met the principal secretary of his department even once ever since he took charge, BJP’s Prakash Mehta, a senior minister in Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s cabinet, Tuesday said the government did not necessarily need bureaucrats for its functioning.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Mehta, the Minister for Housing, Labour and Mining who has been a legislator for over two decades now, said the way forward was to move towards a system where ministers were more empowered.
The task of preparing cabinet notes and making presentations at cabinet meetings should rest with ministers instead of secretaries, he added.
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“I think in a democratic set-up, while taking official decisions at the state cabinet meetings, it is the minister who should make notes and present it to the cabinet. This way the minister will be involved with the issue from its very root and bureaucrats can support. That will be the ideal way of doing things. Even at the Centre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put more responsibility and trust in his ministers,” said Mehta, a legislator from Ghatkopar East constituency.
According to the minister, he has not had a single meeting, whether official or unofficial, with Satish Gavai, Principal Secretary, Housing.
This, at a time when the housing department, perhaps the biggest of the three portfolios Mehta holds, is working on a crucial policy to boost affordable housing in Maharashtra.
“I have never met him. He didn’t come even for an introductory visit. I just got to know that he is on leave from May 2 to May 22. But it doesn’t impact the government’s functioning in any way. Every time you don’t need a principal secretary to work,” said Mehta, who has been in charge of the department for over five months since December.
Gavai, an IAS officer of the 1984 batch, joined as Principal Secretary, Housing, in January before which he was chief executive officer of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, which also comes under Mehta’s purview. Gavai was unavailable for comments despite several attempts.
Former Congress chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said it was “simply shocking” to know that a cabinet minister had never met his principal secretary.
“You may not meet every day, but a regular connect is important. The chief minister should look into this if it is true,” Chavan said.
Chavan added that while the onus of cabinet notes was on the ministers, it was something that had to be prepared by secretaries. “The civil service is the institutional memory of the government. The ministers keep changing. They generally bring experience from their own constituencies unless it is a senior minister who has been in governance for a long period of time. The bureaucrats bring experience from the entire state,” he said.
Chavan, now a member of the legislative assembly from south Karad, however, said the Union government system of cabinet meetings could be tried in the state if found favourable.
“In the Union cabinet, other than the cabinet secretary and principal secretary to the prime minister who sit at the main table, no secretaries attend (meetings). The ministers have to defend their subject and secretaries are called in only in case of a doubt. It is very unlike the Maharashtra cabinet where several more people attend (the meetings). However, the cabinet note is prepared by secretaries,” the former chief minister added.