Prithviraj Chavan’s leadership is under strain. NCP ministers
say the chief minister will not give them a free hand and they, in turn, will not let him have his way. It is this deadlock that has delayed critical policymaking and implementation of
crucial projects, says Shubhangi Khapre
If one were to check the average time spent on official work by the Democratic Front government over the past 15 days, it would reveal a shocking figure of one hour and 48 minutes a day. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan may explain this away as the result of the time lost from the commotion over the resignation of deputy CM Ajit Pawar, that was settled only after a week. But that’s only the last fortnight of the story. What does this coalition government have to show for its performance over the past one year?
What significant policy decisions has the government taken in the one year that Chavan and Ajit were working together? Ask some cabinet ministers and irrespective of party affiliation, they admit that the government has become a victim of coalition paralysis. The administrative zeal which hitherto distinguished Maharashtra from other states has been missing in the past 12 months.
Chavan himself says: “Maharashtra is such a vast state, where one can do wonders if one wants to.” His statement betrays distress over roadblocks that have hurt governance, practically bringing it to a standstill.
How else does one explain the government’s failure to approve the final plan for the redevelopment of Mantralaya, even after four months. On the infrastructure front, all mega-projects, whether it is the monorail or the metro rail, have missed the 2012 deadline.
The list gets longer
The coastal road project has received a positive response from the Centre, but Congress and NCP ministers have not been able to arrive at a consensus on whether to go for the coastal road or just stick to the extension of the Worli-Bandra Sealink to Nariman Point. The issue has been debated for nearly two years.
The cluster development of 16,000 dilapidated buildings in the island city is another major issue that has remained unresolved since 2006-07. So also the promised low-cost housing for 1.10 lakh mill workers.
The appointments of over a dozen IAS officers in key departments have also been delayed for nearly six months because of differences between the alliance partners. The chief minister himself heads the general administration department. The administration is already hampered as it is short by 75 officers. Still, NCP ministers will not allow Chavan a free hand on the appointments in their departments. For his part, Chavan is keen to have non-controversial and upright IAS officers in crucial departments.
Now, work on most irrigation projects in the state has had to stop following allegations of financial irregularities. The list of critical issues which have been lying unresolved runs long. the question every body is asking is, where is the coalition headed?
While Chavan has not been able to come to terms with the politics of the NCP, where results matter not the means, Ajit Pawar appears to have felt choked as Chavan held up files. “The NCP seeks a free hand in government functioning, without being questioned,” agrees Chavan, but he is equally determined not to allow the remote control get out of his grasp.
It’s worse from here
The litmus test for Chavan will come in the next three months. The departments that are directly under the chief minister – like urban development and housing – will be under greater scrutiny as NCP ministers seek accountability from the Congress.
Home minister R R Patil, who has been ruffled by Chavan’s interference in the transfer of IPS officers and policies, has demanded a white paper on urban development. The NCP believes that the chief minister is a hurdle in their work.
It is not just R R Patil. A half a dozen NCP ministers who hold crucial portfolios, including Jayant Patil (finance, rural development), Chhagan Bhujbal (public works) and Sunil Tatkare (water resources), will become more assertive in government.
But the NCP is not the only problem for Chavan. He also faces problems from within his own. A year has gone by, but the government has been unable to decide on a new industrial policy.
Industries minister Narayan Rane had sent the policy file to the chief minister almost six months ago, but there is no explanation why Chavan has kept it under wraps.
The tight rope Chavan has had to walk in running the administration amid the pulls and pressures, without a loyal team, has tested his leadership severely. Even in this hour of crisis, senior Congress ministers in his team are taking it easy, and may just be waiting to strike at the right time.
In 2010, Chavan and Ajit Pawar together pledged in public that they would put the state government on the fast track. They promised to plug financial leakages to streamline development within a time frame. They announced they would work to restrict debt, which has crossed Rs 2.52 lakh crore in 2011-12. But it was clear within a few weeks that they were not walking together.
“Since the first month, we could sense the partnership between Prithviraj and Ajit was not going to be smooth. Both kept their individual agendas hidden,” said a senior bureaucrat.
State NCP chief Madhukar Picchad observed, “In a coalition government, some degree of differences are understandable, but when you clearly sense a design to tarnish someone’s image systematically it cannot be tolerated.”
NCP leaders appreciate Chavan’s clean image. “Even Pawar (Sharad and Ajit) went the extra mile to appreciate Chalvan’s administrative experience and his influence at the Centre. But the perception in the state Congress is that the NCP expected Chavan to bail out their tainted ministers and that this was not possible.
One MPCC general secretary said, “Whether it is corruption in the public works department headed by Chhagan Bhujbal, water resources development of Sunil Tatkare or Ajit Pawar, the state government has taken no initiative to expose the wrongs. These issues have been revealed by opposition party leaders and social activists and through PILs.”
Notwithstanding this defence by the Congress, the fact remains that Chavan played a significant role in cornering NCP ministers on corruption. Chavan and Ajit have been engaged in a turf war, with the junior Pawar scoring electoral gains over the Congress, and this saw Chavan systematically tightening the noose around his deputy chief minister. An example is the revelation of financial irregularities in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank (MSCB), which has been largely under the control of the NCP. The expose was a bolt from the blue, and there has been no turning back.