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This 1991-batch IAS officer, CM Nitish Kumar’s go-to man, will now lead Bihar’s Covid fight

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, who is in an election year, has been under fire as Covid cases have been surging amid complaints over lack of medical facilities and doctors.

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Patna: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been forced into damage control mode following a spurt in Covid-19 cases and growing disenchantment in the state over the lack of medical facilities and non-availability of doctors.

Two days after he lashed out at principal secretary of the health department Uday Singh Kumawat in a cabinet meeting, Nitish Monday transferred the officer to the state planning board, which successive regimes have used to dump IAS officers they do not like.

In his place, the chief minister appointed the 1991-batch IAS officer Pratyaya Amrit, who has a stellar reputation in Bihar’s civil service circles and has held top posts in all governments.

The chief minister was forced to implement the transfer as the Covid-19 situation deteriorated in Bihar, with sources telling ThePrint that there is no coordination between top civil servants in the health department.

“Kumawat was not even on talking terms with the secretary of the department, Lokesh Singh,” said an official in the health department. “It became very difficult for files to move and to monitor the situation. There are five directors of health. Not a single of them were given responsibility for Covid.”

All of this, the officer said, had led to the situation unravelling rapidly in the last two months. Around 2,100 cases were reported Monday, taking Bihar’s total to 41,000 cases. Bihar currently has one of the highest positivity rates in the country and conducts the lowest number of tests per million.

“The health department has not even set up a protocol for treatment of Covid patients in that there are no guidelines on how to treat mildly infected patients, and what to do with the serious ones,” the health ministry official said.

“In dedicated Covid hospitals, there are ridiculous rules that patients hailing from one district will have to go to a specified hospital in Patna. There have been reports of patients not being admitted. The health department does not have a database on the medicines used on patients recovered.”

The official further pointed out other lapses.

“There is complete confusion over disposal of bodies; there are reports of them left lying for two days,” the official said. “Several of the staff engaged in testing have found themselves positive, suggesting that either the staff did not have proper safety kits or there are lapses during conducting a test. For the last two months the health department has failed to respond to these problems.”


Also read: Why the usually cool CM Nitish Kumar is angry as Bihar struggles with Covid and now floods


A proven track record

Beset by such problems, Kumar has turned to IAS officer Pratyaya Amrit, who has a track record of delivering and performing. Informed sources told ThePrint that the chief minister telephoned Amrit to say that he expected results.

“I am conscious of the expectations of the people and the government. I will start off from Tuesday,” Amrit told ThePrint. “I am a person who believes in teamwork. I will be looking to build up a team. I know that because of the Covid situation the time I have is very short. The first thing that needs to be done is trying to remove the fear among people,” he added.

Pratyaya Amrit has had a dream run in Bihar’s civil service.

Even during the Lalu-Rabri regime, he was the district magistrate of five important districts as he hails from Gopalganj district, the native district of both Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi.

But his connections with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are equally strong. He was secretary to BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy when the latter was the Union aviation minister.

Under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Amrit has been handed key posts such as handling road construction and the power department, where he was tasked with revamping the age-old transmission wires.

“The work would have normally taken three years but Amrit completed it in one year and today one will see 20-hour power supply even in the villages of Bihar,” said an official of the electricity department.

As MD of Bihar Bridge Construction Corporation, he transformed a virtually defunct organisation into a profit-making corporation. In 2011, he was picked for the Prime Minister’s Excellence Award for Public Administration.

Officials who have worked under him say Amrit believes in involving everyone in the department.

“He even threw parties for grade IV employees and their families. He backs officials who perform to the hilt and he is equally ruthless on non-performers,” remarked an engineer in the road construction department.

It’s not surprising that his appointment to the health department is now being hailed in the state.

“Pratyaya Amrit is a doer and delivers. He makes quick decisions and does not leave anything pending,” former Bihar Chief Secretary V.S. Dubey told ThePrint. “The government has done the right thing by making him the head of the health and disaster management portfolios. Both departments have a key role to play in the fight against Covid-19.”

Officials are wondering why the chief minister didn’t place Amrit in the health department when he removed former principal secretary Sanjay Kumar in May. “Nitish did not want to remove Amrit from the power department as he feared that it would slide if he was removed. But given the situation of Covid-19, Nitish has no other alternative but to fall back on Pratyaya,” remarked a senior official.

While a section of officers question Amrit’s integrity and pliability, none question him as a performer. The question being asked now is if he can effect a quick turnaround in the state’s Covid situation to salvage the dented image of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.


Also read: There’s a new Tejashwi Yadav in Bihar & he’s doing everything he didn’t do in past 5 years


 

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4 COMMENTS

  1. What sort of a name is this – – Pratyaya Amrit! Did his parents give this name, or the gentleman himself changed his earlier name into this? Either way, it signifies a huge amount of ego in the family, which can mean one or both of these things: he will be difficult to work with, he will be non-corrupt.

  2. This is the true state of “civil services”. People enter into it by rote learning to “secure” their future and land all the pleasures of the “Babu” life. “Not everyone is like that” is a convenient excuse given but I have seen and experienced first hand the reasons why people become civil servants and the backgrounds they become one from. The entry based on decades old testing methodology is broken. More weightage needs to be given to domain level expertise based induction too. Also, removal of repeated incompetent officers needs to become a thing

  3. In such a huge state, why only one officer js competent and what rest are doing? Performing means you become overburdened and do the jobs of other incompetent officers. Incompetent officers must be removed from service. Public shouldn’t be forced to pay for incompetent officers salary. Such officers join civil services only to flaunt their status and are burden on country. Modi must review service rules og govt officials with provisions for dismissal for nonperformers.

  4. Unfortunate that even after 70 years of independence, we’ve been unable to build a sustained inflow of quality officers and continue to rely on individual brilliance. Failure of successive govts.

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