State Of Governance 2: The Absurdity Of Transfers & Posting Of OSDs

Bhubaneswar: The Odisha government’s recent decision to remove the commissioner of Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) Prem Chandra Chaudhury when the capital city is reeling under COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up more questions than answers.

While “administrative exigencies” have for decades been used as an effective shield to justify all government actions, the transfer in question has resulted in speculation ranging from professional to personal reasons, bringing the Naveen Patnaik dispensation’s penchant for springing surprises under the microscope. Chaudhury, a 2010 batch IAS officer, was known to be one of the favourites of the ruling clique having been given important positions like collectors of Ganjam and Kendrapara districts and director of special projects, Panchayati Raj department (almost out of turn) before bagging the prized post of commissioner, BMC, with additional charge of vice-chairman, Bhubaneswar Development Authority ((BDA) and chief executive officer, Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited.

With no mayor or corporators in place (the posts are vacant as BMC elections are due since 2019), Chaudhary was undoubtedly the boss of Bhubaneswar and called the shots from June 2019 till he was given the marching orders on May 12. He held the reins of the state capital’s fight against COVID-19 last year. So, what could have compelled the government to replace him with an officer (Sanjay Kumar Singh) 13 batches his senior? Has it got any relation to COVID (mis) management? Or, is there more to it than meets the eye?

Prem Chandra Chaudhary
Prem Chandra Chaudhary

What has, in fact, become a talking point in different circles and left many with raised eyebrows is not just Chaudhary’s removal but his new assignment: officer-on-special duty (OSD), General Administration and Public Grievance department. Those conversant with government methods would well know that OSD or OWD (officer without duty) are more often than not seen as ‘punishment postings’ and there have been multiple instances in the past like Prashant Kumar Nayak (1984 batch IAS officer), accused in the 1999 Balasore sex scandal, when senior bureaucrats have faced such an ignominy. In times more recent (November 2019) Bijay Kumar Sharma (1986 batch IPS officer), while he was officiating as DGP and DG, Fire Services, got posted as OSD, Home department, with the government ordering an inquiry against him for “non-compliance of instructions” and delay in issuance of fire safety certificates. Sharma has subsequently been posted as Director of Printing Stationery and Publications, Cuttack, though the fate of the probe that effectively killed his career as a top cop is unclear.

While the government usually gives such postings to officers accused of wrongdoing or with doubtful integrity, there have been examples when ‘political incompatibility’ has led to officers getting shunted to posts that the administration does not attach much importance to. Examples of such transfers and postings have existed over decades irrespective of the party in power, initially providing grist to the rumour mills but eventually getting pushed to the realms of oblivion. There have also been cases where the government has ‘rewarded’ the very officers hitherto given ‘punishment postings’, though mostly the reasons remained inexplicable. Strange certainly can be the ways of governance, making one wonder how the carrot-and-stick approach works in the real world!

However, Chaudhary’s case has generated more curiosity than normal. Ostensibly so because Bhubaneswar is possibly battling its worst-ever crisis in the form of COVID. In times more normal, this could well have appeared as a ‘routine’ bureaucratic exercise. But given the gloom hanging heavy over the ‘Smart City’ and BMC waging a tough battle against the deadly coronavirus, the action definitely demands a closer scrutiny. Are the powers that be listening?

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