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Why was Jitin Prasada’s OSD removed? Panel ‘points to transfer of engineer picked with Yogi nod’

UP PWD minister's OSD was removed & 5 officials were suspended last month after committee formed by CM Yogi Adityanath found 'irregularities' in transfer of engineers.

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Lucknow:  With the transfer of around 400 engineers from the Public Works Department (PWD) in Uttar Pradesh causing unrest among a large chunk of the workforce, details from the probe committee report have allegedly revealed several anomalies in the transfer process, ThePrint has learnt.

According to sources in the state government, the committee has found that transfers at all levels exceed the numbers mandated in the official tansfer policy. It also found that a particular chief engineer was transferred without the approval of the chief minister’s office (CMO), the sources said. This was allegedly the reason for the removal of PWD minister Jitin Prasada’s officer on special duty (OSD), Anil Kumar Pandey, on 19 July.

While senior PWD officials claimed that “no rules” were violated during the transfer process of executive engineers and officials above this grade, the probe committee has found that the process reflected “impropriety” on the part of senior officials, according to sources.

After allegations of irregularities in the PWD transfers were reported — including claims of dead engineers being transferred out and several being transferred to two or three districts — Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on 12 July directed that a committee be formed to look into the alleged anomalies, and demanded that a report be submitted to the CMO.

The committee consisted of agriculture production commissioner (APC) Manoj Kumar Singh and ACS (agriculture) Devesh Chaturvedi.

Subsequently, the state government on 19 July, removed PWD minister Prasada’s OSD, while suspending five other officials, including engineer-in-chief (development) and head of department Manoj Kumar Gupta.

Asked about the committee’s findings, APC Singh — one of its two members — told ThePrint that it didn’t find any lapse on the part of officers at the secretariat.

However, the committee has recommended that anomalies in the transfers of engineers attached to headquarters be reviewed and the transfers be cancelled, said Singh. Those transfers that exceeded the prescribed limit must also be cancelled, he added.

There has been no further development on the cancellation of transfers thus far.

Prasada didn’t respond to ThePrint’s request for comment. A PWD functionary, however, said that the minister isn’t expected to accept all transfer recommendations. “The question is whether any rules have been violated and the answer is no,” he said when asked about the alleged violations.

However, the probe committee has found that the number of transfers exceeded the “20 per cent” limit mandated by a 15 June transfer policy order.

“The transfers of officials above the level of executive engineers (XENs) exceeded the 20 per cent limit,” said the official quoted above.

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‘No CMO approval suggests impropriety’

Government sources privy to the probe’s findings told ThePrint that the greatest deviation from the transfer policy was found in the transfers of personnel in the ranks of assistant engineer and junior engineer.

However, they added, Prasada’s OSD was removed because the CMO’s approval wasn’t sought for the “out of season” transfer of a chief engineer who had originally been posted with the approval of the CM.

“The transfer of the Setu Nigam (Uttar Pradesh Bridge Corporation, a body under the PWD department) MD was effected despite the fact that he was yet to complete one year in the post,” a senior government official told ThePrint.

“The appointment of the MD was done by the CM’s office. So, it would have been appropriate to take approval from the CM’s office for transferring the MD. It might not be illegal, but not taking approval from the CM’s office for transferring an official posted with the approval of the CM suggests impropriety,” added the official.

The fact that the principal secretary took up the case of the MD’s transfer with the minister’s office was also a “major reason” for the action, said sources.

According to the sources, the probe committee found that PWD principal secretary Narendra Bhooshan had raised the issue of transfers — of a few senior persons at the level of chief engineer —with Prasada’s office for reconsideration, but no cognisance was taken of this.

“There were about two-three cases including that of the post of the Setu Nigam MD that were put up for reconsideration,” sources told ThePrint.

When contacted, Bhooshan emphasised that the report submitted to the government has mentioned all the irregularities and mistakes, and at which level these were made.

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Dead engineers ‘transferred’

According to sources, the committee found the greatest number of anomalies in the transfers of assistant and junior engineers, with the prescribed limit for transfers being exceeded in the case of the latter.

“Among junior engineers, 10 per cent should have been transferred, but the limit has been crossed. The anomalies at higher levels like XEN, SE (superintending engineer), and CE (chief engineer) are fewer. The greatest deviation was found at the lower levels,” a source privy to the probe’s findings told ThePrint.

Among several alleged irregularities in transfers, the most bizarre ones were the names of dead and non-existent engineers figuring in the list, official sources said.

For instance, they said, engineer Ghanshyam Das Kaswal — who died three years ago — was transferred from Firozabad to Jhansi. Another engineer, by the name of Rajkumar, posted in Nirman Khand, Etawah, was transferred to Lalitpur, but it was found that no engineer by that name existed. A junior engineer by the name of Dharmpal was transferred to two districts, Mainpuri and Etawah; the same happened to Salig Singh, who was transferred to both Badaun and Lucknow.

Several engineers who’ve been posted in a district or a division for anywhere between seven and 18 years were given postings in the same district or division. But the irregularities are allegedly most visible at the PWD headquarters, where some engineers who’ve been posted there for as long as 12-18 years have not been transferred.

“One executive engineer has been posted at Lucknow PWD headquarters for 12 years, but he has not been transferred. One chief engineer has been posted in Lucknow district for the past 18 years, but he has not been touched,” said a senior PWD functionary.

However, the UP Engineers Association says officials attached to headquarters are usually kept out of the annual transfer process.

“If the government wants, it can transfer the officials posted at headquarters as and when required. It is up to the government to transfer these officials if it feels someone is posted at a place longer than appropriate,” Ashish Yadav, general secretary of the association, told ThePrint.

Explaining the transfer process in the PWD, Yadav said that while the transfers of junior engineers and assistant engineers are carried out by the department head, the transfers of more senior people — executive engineers, superintending engineers, and chief engineers — are done with the approval of the state government. That is, the minister via the principal secretary, or even the CMO in some cases.

Elaborating on the process of preparation of the lists, a senior PWD functionary explained that the list of senior engineers — XENs, SEs, and CEs — is prepared by the staff officer of the HOD and the engineer-in-chief (development) and his team of 18 subordinate officers. This is approved by HOD, who then forwards it to the principal decretary. Manoj Gupta, one of the suspended officials, was the engineer in chief (development) and HOD till his suspension.

“The principal secretary then makes changes if any, before forwarding it to the minister’s office — the final approving authority. The final list is released only after approval by the minister’s office. Similarly, teams of the engineer-in-chief (gramin) and engineer-in-chief (project/planning) prepare the transfer lists of assistant engineers and junior engineers respectively,” the functionary said.

In the present case, anomalies have reportedly been found at all levels including JEs, AEs, XENs, SEs, and CEs.

What is the transfer policy?

On 15 June, the UP cabinet chaired by CM Adityanath approved the new transfer policy for 2022-23. A government order was subsequently issued by chief secretary Durga Shanker Mishra and addressed to all the additional chief secretaries, principal secretaries, and secretaries of the UP government. ThePrint has a copy of the order.

The order includes directions to transfer officers/ employees falling under groups A and B posts, if they have completed three years in a district or seven years in a division. It also puts upper limits on the number of personnel of a given cadre that can be transferred — up to 20 per cent for groups A and B, and 10 per cent for groups C and D.

It also directs that as much as possible, the transfer of officials from Groups B and C be carried out through a merit-based online transfer system.

Further, it states that if both a husband and wife are working for the government, they should be transferred to the same district/ city/ place to the extent possible; disabled persons and their dependents should be exempted from transfers; parents of mentally “slow” children should be given transfers to the place where their treatment is possible; and those retiring within two years should be given postings in their home districts (group C) or in districts preferred by them apart from the home district (groups A and B).

(Edited by Siddarth Muralidharan)

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