Violating Rules, Mamata Appoints her Aide as Principal Secretary

Mamata Banerjee violated rules by elevating her aide to Principal Secretary, a cadre post for IAS officers. 

3 min read
Mamata Banerjee&nbsp;(Photo: <a href="">Twitter/@MamataOfficial</a>)

There is a quiet anger brewing In West Bengal. Indian Administrative Service officers are being forced to digest an unprecedented move by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The Secretary to the Chief Minister Gautam Sanyal, has been elevated to the rank of principal secretary. It is the first time in the state that a former officer of the central secretariat service has been made principal secretary to the chief minister, a ‘cadre’ post reserved for a serving senior IAS officer.

The Rapport Between Mamata and Sanyal

During her first tenure as Railway Minister in 1999, Mamata Banerjee had developed a rapport with Sanyal, an officer on special duty in the Union Railway Ministry. After his retirement in 2011, she brought him in from Delhi as her secretary, and brazenly attempted to appoint him principal secretary. This would give him the stature to interact on par with other departmental heads. 

According to the rule book, even a retired IAS officer can only be brought back as officer on special duty.

Former Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh. (Photo: <a href=""></a>)
Former Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh. (Photo:

Despite her order in December that year, Banerjee’s plans to make Sanyal the principal secretary were thwarted by the then Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh, who had pointed out that this was against the rules.

Banerjee was both angry and helpless, as this move could not go through without the chief secretary’s consent.

What the chief minister did manage to do was to get the chief secretary to issue, for the first time in Bengal, an order in which Sanyal’s tenure was marked as coterminous with the chief minister’s.

How it Took Mitra Two Years to Accede to the CM’s Move

Last week, the present Chief Secretary Sanjay Mitra helped to fulfill the chief minister’s longstanding wish. Bureaucratic circles were taken aback by this turn of events. What happened to the irregularity? Mitra, a seasoned and respected civil servant, has been in the PMO and is well-versed with rules. He was appointed chief secretary in September 2012. Why did it take the chief minister over two and a half years to get him to agree?

Sources point out that Sanyal’s promotion came a day after the present chief secretary was denied empanelment for the post of secretary in the Government of India.

Under the circumstances, they say he had little choice but to comply with Banerjee’s insistence, even though it is not in conformity with rules. If he has no option but to be in Bengal for the remaining four years before he retires, he cannot afford to rub the chief minister and her secretary the wrong way.

Sanjay Mitra (first from the left) in a meeting with The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation Pte Ltd (GIC) (Photo: <a href="">West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation Ltd.</a>)
Sanjay Mitra (first from the left) in a meeting with The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation Pte Ltd (GIC) (Photo: West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation Ltd.)

Has the Bureaucracy Become Gutless?

An annoyed bureaucrat says, “If the head of the bureaucracy capitulates, what can you do? It is very sad indeed.” While the bureaucracy is visibly upset, supporters of the chief minister feel that it is a case of much ado about nothing. They point out that Sanyal has retired and therefore cannot leverage this for future postings.

Moreover, he is not being given the financial benefits of a principal secretary, just the rank. “Money is not the issue, it is the rank. It is the chief minister’s arbitrary style and the compliance of bureaucrats who buckle under pressure that is disconcerting,” says another bureaucrat.

Interestingly even those who feel that too much is being made of this, speak with awe of Samar Ghosh, the former chief secretary who stood his ground and describe him as “impeccable and an institution, who lives by the rule book”. Ghosh is now a member of the State Administrative Tribunal. Sadly Ghosh belongs to a dwindling tribe.

A senior politician says, “The bureaucracy has become gutless. Institutions are being compromised and this is a sign of a weakening democracy. Our parliament, our judiciary and our bureaucracy are all buckling under pressure.”

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