A day after he spoke out against the decision to impose a 10-day lockdown in Pune, the Maharashtra government, in a surprise move, transferred Municipal Commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad. He will be replaced by Vikram Kumar, who is currently the chief executive officer of Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority (PMRDA).
Gaikwad will once again hold the post of Commissioner of Sugar, which he had held before being appointed the chief of Pune Municipal Corporation in January this year. He had taken over from Saurabh Rao, who was appointed the Commissioner of Sugar. Now, Rao has been appointed the Officer on Special Duty at the Pune Divisional Commissionerate.
After Divisional Commissioner Deepak Mhaisekar announced the decision to impose a 10-day lockdown in both Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad on Friday, on the directions of Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Gaikwad had told The Indian Express he had opposed the move in the review meeting.
Speaking to The Indian Express soon after his transfer, Gaikwad said, “I don’t know whether I am a victim of politics. But I am what I am. I speak my mind… I have been doing this for 30-35 years. I strongly believe that the lockdown is not in the interest of the poor who have had to suffer a lot…”.
Gaikwad said he has never hesitated while expressing his views. “I express my views fearlessly, I have never hesitated about putting them plainly. If a certain thing is right, I have stood for it, if it is not appropriate I have taken a stand. I don’t want to be shackled…,” he said.
“I don’t know whether I was transferred for speaking against the lockdown. But I speak about things I strongly feel about…I am not like others. I don’t hold myself back when certain things happen… I am not a strategist like others…,” said the outgoing PMC chief.
Gaikwad said when he was the sugar commissioner, he had taken several “positive decisions”. “The farmers were stunned when I was transferred… Even now, I am getting calls from people who liked the way I worked. This is my achievement. What else do you want other than public acclaim,” he said.
While civic officials said Gaikwad had led from the front in his fight against Covid-19 in Pune and played a crucial role in bringing life back to normal in the city after relaxation of lockdown norms, some elected representatives had complained that he had single-handedly taken all decisions related to containing the spread of the disease without consulting them.
Earlier, Gaikwad’s decision to implement lockdown norms only in micro-containment zones had not gone well with Mayor Murlidhar Mohol, who had publicly criticised the decision.
However, teams from the central government, which had visited Pune to review the Covid-19 situation, had appreciated the work taken by the civic administration.
Pune has seen a sharp spike in Covid-19 cases since ‘unlockdown’ began, with some city wards reporting over a 1,000 cases.
Criticising the transfer decision, city MP and BJP leader Girish Bapat said, “The PMC chief has fallen victim to internal politics of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government… This is the time to support officials who are trying their best to contain Covid-19. We were extending support to the commissioner, who was doing a good job in containing the spread of the infection. His transfer will shake the entire official machinery.”
Activist Vivek Velenkar of the Sajag Nagarik Manch said,”Gaikwad has been speaking out against anything which he thought was not appropriate. Though he was barely in charge for a few months, he handled the Covid-19 situation in a proper way. And if you are transferred for doing a good job, that’s unbelievable.”
Gaikwad’s successor, Kumar, has served as the commissioner of PMRDA since March 2019 and has been working directly under Ajit Pawar, who is the guardian minister of Pune.
Earlier, the state government’s decision to replace Pravinsinh Pardeshi as the chief of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in May, as Mumbai saw a spike in Covid-19 cases, had attracted criticism.