Mahesh Vijapurkar

We need to take note that a tendency is strengthening among IAS officers in Maharashtra to try and stick to the rule book or carry out their tasks and ward off political interference in their mandated work. The latest to come to public attention is the Municipal Commissioner of Thane who has dared the general body to move a motion of confidence against him so that he was transferred.

This not the first time. A few months ago, he told the general body that he was going to seek a transfer by meeting the chief minister but he was not obliged. Now, the demand for a no confidence motion has either nonplussed the politicians or they are biding their time for a few months before Sanjeev Jaiswal’s term naturally ends. They had tried to even defame him.

A growing city, or a congested one like Mumbai, offers immense scope for the politicians and middlemen, or politicians as middlemen, to harvest lucre because construction is a big industry. If growing, new housing stock has to be built, if congested, rules have to be bent. It is said that in many large cities, politicians have a stake, direct or otherwise, in the construction business.

Thane is no boondocks anymore. It is a respectable city of over two million and growing, but getting congested which calls for better civic management beyond to so-called ‘smart city’ business promoted by the Centre. Its middleclass is growing and so are the shanties. It needs good governance but politicians are not the kind who are interested beyond using the civic body for their personal growth.

Jaiswal, like his predecessor, T Chandrashekar, who in early 2000 helped city get better infrastructure despite political obstacles, has been on a spree of pro-people and pro-city, as it should be, actions. But that is where the problem arises because the city is never the politicians’ concern and Jaiswal is a thorn in their side. He improved the revenues and demolished encroachments like not seen for quite some time.

People have stood up for him and even circulated public petitions to thwart the vested interests. He happens to be perhaps the only civic chief who had to employ, at the civic body’s cost, of course, private bouncers for protection. He has been abused and his deputy attacked when personally supervising the removal of encroachments or breaking down illegal structures including an underground refuge for bar girls.

Jaiswal isn’t alone. Tukaram Munde, who was Navi Mumbai’s civic chief, had to pay the price of a transfer after a very short stint because he did not bow to the politicians. His frequent transfers – to Pimpri-Chinchwad, and then to Nashik – are something he takes on his chin but seems out to tell the lot that even in a democracy, there are rules of conduct, and politicians cannot run loose. That institutions are important.

Take for instance Mahesh Zagade who too has been on the merry-go-round of transfers because he too is made of a different cloth than those who bow and scrape. He ran foul of the power that be as a Commissioner of Food and Drugs Authority and since then, has been kept in the districts but wherever he has been posted, he remains resolute about doing his work sans the vested interests poking their noses.

Maharashtra has several upright officials who made a dent in the system that was getting corrupted. There was the MrD M Sukhtankar who brooked no nonsense, and later his successor after years, S. S. Tinaikar, both commissioners of Mumbai civic body, the once touted the Prima in Indis – the prime among cities of India – who let the politician and contractors know that city governance was citizen-centric and not them.

Not just Maharashtra’s cities where the Chandrashekars, the Jaiswals, and the Mundes have made a huge difference do good officers are required but across the country at every level. This tendency now seen would perhaps trigger that, first at the city governance level because that is where the lives are lived.