CHIEF MINISTER Devendra Fadnavis on Friday appointed senior bureaucrat and Brihanmum-bai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Commissioner Ajoy Mehta as the new state chief secretary (CS).
Mehta, a 1984-batch IAS officer, will replace U P S Madan (1983 batch), who has opted for voluntary retirement after serving in the top post for barely 44 days — effectively making him the shortest serving state CS. Madan still had five months of service left. Mehta is the third chief secretary that the state has seen in 13 months.
Fadnavis’ Additional Chief Secretary Praveen Pardeshi, another high-profile bureaucrat, will replace Mehta as the BMC chief.
The sudden change of guard comes at a time when the model code of conduct for the Lok Sabha elections is still in place. The general administration department (GAD) issued the order regarding Mehta’s appointment on Friday evening after the Election Commission of India (EC) gave its approval to the development. During an election season, the position of state chief secretary is a key post.
Sources said that Madan had written to the CM on May 8 seeking voluntary retirement on an immediate basis, citing personal grounds. He had also sought a waiver of the three-month notice clause, which was accepted and forwarded for the EC’s clearance.
Indicating elaborate backroom choreography in the changes, on Friday itself, the GAD issued orders re-employing Madan as a special advisor to the CM on contractual basis. He has also been appointed the chairman of the state-owned non-banking financial company, SICOM Limited.
While Madan’s new contractual appointment with the CMO is for a year, sources said that he is a top contender for the state election commissioner’s post, once the incumbent Jageshwar Saharia’s term ends on September 9. “I’ve applied for the position,” Madan said.
Speculation was rife in the state’s bureaucratic circles that Madan’s voluntary retirement was an “arrangement” to pave way for Mehta’s appointment. “The EC might have raised queries if an incumbent CS had been transferred. With Madan opting for VRS, this was taken care of,” a senior official said.
Mehta’s name had been in contention even when Madan was first appointed as the CS on March 27. A source said: “He had been made aware that his stint would be brief, and he had consented to it.”
Sources also said that Fadnavis has put off other resultant major bureaucratic changes for now. Rajiv Jalota, commissioner (Sales Tax) will handle the finance secretary’s portfolio in additional capacity for the time being.
Mehta ends his stint with the Mumbai municipality as its longest serving commissioner. He was appointed to the post on April 28, 2015. He had previously had a nine-year stint in the state’s power sector. In 2017, Mehta was empanelled for a secretary-rank position with the Union government. But sources said that Fadnavis wanted him to stay back, and had assured him that he would be suitably accommodated.
Speculation is also rife that the political powers in the Centre, too, had some role to play in the change of guard in Maharashtra.