Maharashtra’s Home Secretary Sanjay Kumar will be the state’s new Chief Secretary and outgoing Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta has been accommodated in a specially created post as the Principal Advisor to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
Thackeray on Wednesday signed the file for Kumar’s appointment and he will take over the reins of the state administration after Mehta’s extended tenure ends on June 30.
Both Mehta and Kumar belong to the 1984-batch of IAS officers. Mehta, who assumed charge on May 10, 2019, was supposed to retire on September 30, 2019, but received a couple of term extensions so far.
With the Chief Minister heavily relying on Mehta for administrative decisions, Thackeray’s office had initially approached the Centre’s Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on whether another extension could be granted to Mehta in light of the ongoing crisis. But once the latter replied in the negative, a decision on the next Chief Secretary was imminent.
Other than Kumar, General Administration department Secretary Sitaram Kunte (1985 batch) and Urban Development Secretary Praveen Pardeshi were in contention for the Chief Secretary’s chair. But Thackeray eventually opted for the senior most serving Additional Chief Secretary in the state cadre after Mehta for the top post. Mehta, soon to assume charge as the Principal Advisor to the CM, too, is believed to have pushed Kumar’s case.
Sources said that Kunte, who shares a good rapport with Thackeray, may be given the Home Secretary’s post. Pardeshi, who was abruptly shifted out from the Mumbai municipal commissioner’s post amid the pandemic in May, is likely to continue on his current post as the Urban Development Secretary. With Sanjay Kumar’s elevation, the state will also have to soon locate a new Housing Secretary. Kumar was holding the post.
Mehta’s 13-month term as the Chief Secretary has been an eventful one. The political upheaval Maharashtra saw after the October 2019 polls meant that Mehta served as the Chief Secretary of three different governments — Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena government, 80-hour-long Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar government and now the Uddhav Thackeray-led Mahavikas Aghadi government. Mehta, who enjoys the confidence of the Pawars and also shares a good rapport with the BJP leadership, also managed two extensions, including the last one in March, just before the country went into lockdown. The Thackeray government’s farm loan waiver initiative was personally commandeered by him. He has also been at the forefront of Maharashtra’s battle against Covid-19.
A press communication from the Chief Minister’s Office late evening regarding the development indicated that Mehta will continue to be a go-to bureaucrat for Thackeray even after he relinquishes the Chief Secretary’s post. “In wake of the pandemic, the wide ranging and long administrative experience of Mehta will come in handy for revival of the economy, the industry and to push administrative reforms,” it stated. With Sanjay Kumar seen as a low profile bureaucrat, Mehta will continue to be an influential power centre even in his new avataar, said sources.
There was no confirmation till the time of filing this report on whether the new post will also carry a special rank, equivalent to that of a Cabinet Minister. For now, Mehta has agreed to serve as Thackeray’s Principal Advisor till further orders.
Kumar, meanwhile, is set to attain superannuation in February 2021.
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