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IAS officer Iqbal Chahal, BMC chief & Mumbai’s Covid hero, was once shunted out by Modi govt

Chahal was serving in the Union home ministry when in 2015 he was moved to the WCD ministry, before he was unceremoniously ‘compelled’ to leave the central government.

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New Delhi: The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal, a 1989-batch IAS officer, is now being celebrated across the board for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis in Mumbai, a year after he took over.  

Chahal was even awarded the ‘Lokmat Maharashtrian of the Year 2021 Award’ by Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman earlier this year, and praised by another Union Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, for “right approach and judicious use of resources”. 

But just five years ago, in 2016, he was unceremoniously “compelled” to leave the central government, and was prematurely repatriated to his parent Maharashtra cadre three years before his central deputation was supposed to end, officers privy to the development told ThePrint.

Close to former home minister in the UPA government, Sushil Kumar Shinde, who belongs to Maharashtra, Chahal served as the Officer on Special Duty (OSD) and joint secretary in the home ministry. 

Also read: How this IAS officer ensured ailing Maharashtra district was ready to battle 2nd Covid wave

Moved to WCD ministry

Soon after the Modi government came to power in 2014 Chahal was shunted out to the much less prestigious Ministry for Women and Child Development (WCD) in 2015, a stint during which he was put on compulsory leave after an alleged “difference of opinion” with then WCD Minister Maneka Gandhi. 

“In the home ministry, he looked after all the Union Territories, including Delhi, and the AGMUT cadre. It is considered one of the most important posts in the ministry…And he was also PS to the minister,” an officer said on condition of anonymity. “But when this government came to power, he was one of the senior officers to be shunted out of the home ministry.” 

In the WCD ministry, Chahal had a “difference of opinion” with the then minister, Maneka Gandhi, a source who was then privy to matters of the WCD ministry, said. 

“He wanted something done regarding the implementation of the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme), which the minister had refused…After that he just wanted to leave,” the source said.

ThePrint reached both Chahal and Maneka Gandhi for a comment through calls and text messages, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report. ThePrint also sent a mail to the PIB spokesperson, for responses from MHA and DoPT but received no response until the publishing of this report.

According to reports, he was put on compulsory leave after he went on a 90-day leave without informing anyone. 

“He has always been a top-notch officer, but one who was not particularly valued by this dispensation because he was seen as being close to the Congress government,” the first officer said.

“A lot of OSDs to ministers face this problem…Because they come to be seen as so close to a minister or a particular government, they find it hard to survive in any other dispensation.” 

Headed important portfolios in Maharashtra

Back in Maharashtra, Chahal was given the all-important portfolios of water resources, and urban development before he was appointed as the BMC commissioner. 

“In Maharashtra, there was an NDA government at the time he went back, but then too he proved to be good at his job,” the first IAS officer said. 

In a recent conversation with ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, Chahal said he cracked the IAS exam in 1989 when he was less than 22 years of age — making him one of the youngest to clear the prestigious exam. A father of four, including triplets, Chahal is the son-in-law of former Punjab Chief Secretary Ajit Singh Chatha. 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Maharashtra brings on theatre artists to convince people to follow Covid norms as cases plateau


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