If there is one thing that Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan can definitely complain about in Maharashtra, it is the number of requests he gets from his own ilk — elected representatives or MPs, MLAs and MLCs — who flood his office with requests for transfers of government employees.
A state government reply to an application obtained under the Right To Information Act by The Indian Express revealed that in the three years from 2011, the Chief Minister’s Office received 1,833 letters — about three letters every two days — regarding transfers of government employees from 278 MLAs, MLCs and MPs.
The requests are for transfers across all major departments, especially urban development, public works, home, public health, agriculture animal husbandry & fisheries, rural development and water resources. Many letters concern transfer requests for what government officials describe as ‘lucrative positions’ — those of MSRTC drivers, RTO officials, Group Development Officers, motor vehicle inspectors at various RTOs and officials from municipal councils among others.
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But for much of such badgering, Chavan can blame only his own party leaders. The data supplied under the RTI reveals that 87 of the 278 elected representatives who put in such requests were from the Congress; 60 from NCP; 45 from BJP; 32 from Shiv Sena and 54 from other parties or Independents. While two out of every three letters (1,231 out of 1,833) have been written by MLAs; MLCs and MPs have written 372 and 230 letters each respectively.
Shailesh Gandhi, a former chief information commissioner and a transparency activist, said, “This is certainly not in the spirit of law. Transfers are a purely administrative matter and the political class should refrain from getting involved. Politicians are damaging our institutions of governance. This is across all parties, but it may be that the ruling party tries to get more of its work done.”
But what leads to bunching up of such requests at the CM’s table is a legislation which is unique to the state — the Maharashtra Government Servants Regulation of Transfers and Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act — that came into effect on July 1, 2006. This Act, which was enacted to provide stability of tenure to government employees, following Anna Hazare’s agitations, requires all government transfers to be made in April and May. Out of turn transfers in every department have to necessarily be referred to the next higher authority — the CM’s office.
Leading the pack of elected representatives is the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president and MLC Manikrao Thakre. He sent 70 letters — the highest any of the 278 politicians has written in the three-year period. There are 46 politicians, mostly MLAs, who had each sent 10 or more letters seeking transfers.
Many of Thakre’s letters, like other politicians, were addressed to multiple departments pushing often the same transfer. For instance, in 2012, he had written to the General Administration Department about the transfer of a joint managing director at Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation. Later that year, he wrote two more letters, one addressed to the Chief Minister’s office and the other to the General Administration Department, on the same subject. The official was ultimately transferred from the position about a year and a half ago.
When contacted, Thakre told The Indian Express, “People come to us and make requests. They have various difficulties related to their family and other things. We as political representatives have to take their problems into consideration and so we make recommendations. However, the concerned department only acts on these requests after looking into the cases. It is not that they take decisions based on our letters.”
Like Thakre, BJP MLA Eknath Khadse, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, sent numerous letters requesting transfers. In three years, Khadse sent 59 such letters, the highest from among all BJP leaders.
“We are often left with no option but to send these letters. We tell people that there is a transfers policy in place and a decision will be taken accordingly but they do not understand. They request us to at least send a letter and try. In politics, it is not very wise to disappoint people so we have to oblige,” Khadse said.
From among the other major parties, the most active politician from NCP in terms of writing letters for transfers was Udayanraje Bhosale, descendant of Maratha king Shivaji and MP from Satara. He wrote 20 such letters mostly to departments such as urban development, revenue & forests, and public works, among others. From Shiv Sena, it was MP Anandrao Adsul who had dispatched 13 such letters, the maximum from the party.
In some cases, multiple politicians had written letters about the same transfer case. For example, pushing for a transfer of an assistant motor vehicles inspector at Gadchiroli, three different MLAs had written a total of six letters. Congress’s Namdeo Usendi, Anandrao Gedam, and independent Deepak Atram — all three MLAs from the Gadchiroli district— had written one letter each to the home department and to the Chief Minister’s office regarding the request.