Kolkata: The Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal has shunted out its highest-ranking civil servant in the health department right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under fire for its handling of the crisis, the state government Tuesday morning transferred the Principal Secretary for Health, Vivek Kumar, a 1990-batch IAS officer and posted him as the principal secretary for environment.
Kumar has been replaced by N.S. Nigam, a 1998-batch IAS officer who is currently the secretary of the transport department. He, however, will take over as secretary, health.
This is the third such reshuffle of IAS officers in the past three weeks of the pandemic.
Before Kumar, Manoj Agarwal, the principal secretary, food and supplies; Subrata Gupta, principal secretary, urban development and municipal affairs, were shunted out of their respective departments. Two district magistrates have also been transferred in the same period.
Tuesday’s order comes in the wake of a “fallout” between the chief minister and the IAS officer over measures to manage the pandemic, sources told ThePrint.
Sources in the government also said that Kumar had expressed his displeasure at the functioning of the health department, and had volunteered for a transfer.
Senior officials, however, remained tight-lipped on the transfer.
There had been speculation of trouble as Kumar was never at the media briefings on the Covid-19 situation, barring one instance on 4 May, despite being the top-ranking health ministry officer. Instead, over the past 40 days, the briefings have been led by Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha or the chief minister, who are flanked by the home secretary and health secretary.
A spate of high-profile transfers
There has been a spate of high-profile IAS transfers in the 40 days of lockdown in West Bengal.
Among those transferred was Subrata Gupta, principal secretary, urban development and municipal affairs, with sources saying that he was shunted for recommending that officers function as administrators at the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and other 93 other civic bodies, where the terms of the councillors has ended.
Gupta had recommended that officers be in charge of the corporations as elections have not been held due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Known to be an upright officer, Gupta, sources said, put his recommendations on record and even attached a list of officers who might be appointed as administrators.
Instead, the government on 6 May issued a notification stating that serving mayors of municipal corporations and chairmans of municipalities will take over as administrators. It then transferred Gupta within an hour of the notification. He is now posted as the principal secretary, food processing industries and horticulture department.
Khalil Ahmed, the Kolkata Municipal Commissioner, was given additional charge of the urban development department on the same day.
Agarwal, who was put on ‘compulsory waiting’ on 17 April was on 6 May posted as the principal secretary, fire and emergency services. The chief minister was not happy with his handling of the Public Distribution System (PDS).
A retired bureaucrat on the condition of anonymity said, “The officers who remain out of Banerjee’s loop are generally facing the heat now. These officers are never seen close to the chief minister and known to have stuck to their work. Sadly, all of them are from important departments and related to the fight against the pandemic.’