Some 110 officials were suspended and many others served with notices during a month-long drive to reconnect with the people. ‘Lok Suraj Abhiyan’ that began on April 27 saw the chief minister and all other ministers crisscrossing the state, reviewing development work and cracking the whip on erring officials in public.
While Singh suspended seven officials during the drive, PWD minister Rajesh Munat suspended five senior engineers during a trip to Sarjuga district over irregularities to the tune of Rs 5 crores. Agriculture and water resources minister Brijmohan Agarwal suspended an agricultural officer and panchayat secretary in Mahasamund for alleged negligence while forest minister Mahesh Gaghda suspended three after their relatives were found to be illegally occupying government accommodation in Dhamtari.
Other ministers chose to give senior officials a dressing down when found wanting. Women and child development minister Ramshila Sahu chided the collector of Kanker, Shammi Abidi, for trying to defend some officials. “Are you not willing to work here?” the minister asked the bureaucrat in the presence of others.
Urban administration minister Amar Agarwal berated officials accused of unauthorised payments to contractors.” “Is the state your territory where you rule,” he angrily asked, before ordering the Balod district collector to suspend them.
The tongue-lashing and whip-cracking, the government, hopes, will help in repairing its image that many believe has taken a beating. Singh’s administration has particularly come in for criticism for alleged police excesses and the jailing of at least four journalists. Activists say free speech is under attack in the state.
“The people-centric policies can best be formulated not sitting in the state secretariat but by undertaking ground assessment and feedback from the masses. Such approach fixes the accountability on officials and enables the schemes to succeed. We tried to directly ask the people what they want”, Singh told HT.
The chief minister visited each of the state’s districts during the month, travelling 8,000 kms and attending over two dozen choupals (village gatherings).
“But superior efforts were appreciated too. Officials were equally praised for good work and capabilities”, a senior bureaucrat said.
Pusao Ram, a farmer in Mungeli district, who attended one of the village gatherings, hoped the crackdown may bring about positive changes.
Political analyst Parivesh Mishra was more circumspect. “To ensure accountability on governance there has to be consistency. How the process…is going to impact the working of the bureaucracy remains to be seen”, he said.
The opposition Congress, however, dubbed the exercise as hollow. “The actions against the officials were to cover up the failures of the Raman cabinet”, state Congress president Bhupesh Baghel said.