Even as outgoing Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) commissioner Mahesh Zagade remained tight-lipped about his transfer, it was hard to miss the disappointment of his colleagues as they bid him a sombre farewell. Zagade received abrupt transfer orders on Wednesday evening from the chief minister's office.
Zagade was to lead a committee of Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) to make an official presentation in the Union health ministry to cabinet minister Dr Harshvardhan about the Maharashtra Model of FDA reform later in the month.
"For 60 years, state FDA, which was submerged in anarchy, underwent a change of face during Zagade's tenure. It would have been a matter of pride if Zagade would have represented this to the central government. The CM's office should have had a little foresight," said RP Yajurvedi Rao, president, Society for Awareness of Civil Rights.
Zagade had turned in 12 of his own colleagues to Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) after they were caught taking bribes. "The details of corrupt officers has been routinely put up on the FDA website for public view. Anyone who was illegally pressurised could approach my office without fear," Zagade told dna.
Even though his three-year stint at FDA was due for completion on August 29, FDA staffers were of the view that he should have been given an extension to strengthen the mechanisms he had put in place.
"Most bureaucrats are given an extension of term if they have been performing consistently in their domain. An extension was a plausible option," said an FDA official.
Zagade was "transferred" allegedly under industry pressure, especially chemist associations against whom he had turned on the heat since taking charge. "Nearing election time, the state is in need of 'resources'. In this light, shunting Zagade out seemed eminent," said a highly-placed source in Mantralaya.
Unsure about where he will be posted next and when, Zagade is in waiting to assume his duties. Theoretically, while issuing transfer orders for IAS officers, the state should fix the next posting immediately. On Tuesday, he tweeted, "Handed over change of FDA. Awaiting new assignment... hush."
Last time around, after giving up charge as the Pune municipal commissioner, he was kept in limbo for three months before the post of FDA commissioner was allotted to him in August 2011.
Zagade created an overhaul in the state FDA after assuming charge in 2011. From banning gutkha and pan masala in the state and seizing stocks worth crores to taking on over 55,000 chemists and compelling them to follow the 60-year-old Drugs and Cosmetics Act, Zagade made many enemies during his tenure. "Receiving threat calls from gutkha lobbies or pharmaceutical industry was commonplace. I was told that taking tough stands would cost me dear," he said.
Zagade observed that FDA was grossly short-staffed and efforts to recruit more staff had been futile. "There are only 120 drug inspectors for supervising 70,000 chemists and wholesalers and 4 lakh doctors. There should ideally be close to thousand. More posts have not been sanctioned," he added.
As the Pune municipal commissioner, Zagade was instrumental in changing the face of the city. In 2002, he threw open the gates of PMC to masses. "Every Monday between 3pm and 7pm, anyone could walk into the PMC office to access any official document they required under the Right to Information Act. This made the officials more accountable. All papers were furnished on public's demand," Zagade told dna.
CMO in spot over Twitter argument
In reply to a tweet by @debroysumitra — Shame tat @CMOMaharashtra gave in to crooked chemists & shunted FDA commissioner Mahesh Zagade! Proves politics always above good governance — @CMOMaharashtra tweeted, "Shri Zagade has completed his tenure as FDA Commissioner. No question of shunting him. In any case policies will continue."
A string of tweets in reply to @CMOMaharashtra created an uproar over Twitter.
@debroysumitra tweeted, "As for policies, Drug and Cosmetics Act has been there for over 50 years, never been implemented in letter or spirit!@CMOMaharashtra"
@Rupalijee tweeted, "@CMOMaharashtra @debroysumitra #Policies n laws have been there 4 years! Its their implementation whch is d worrisome factor. #governance"
Zagade chose to stay away from controversy