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|October 15, 1999||
Jumbo government faces space, staff crunch
Josy Joseph in New Delhi
A mad rush has begun in the corridors of the Union government for rooms, cars, private staff and even departments as the jumbo Cabinet of Atal Bihari Vajpayee takes charge.
At Shastri Bhawan, Transport Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan and other buildings housing the ministries of the Union of India, ministers are still hunting for space to sit, searching for reliable personal staff, and waiting for official vehicles.
Many of the ministers who turned up at their departments yesterday and even today found no rooms for them and returned home. And many ministers of state are still waiting at home to be allotted offices and personal staff.
In Shastri Bhawan, which houses the human resource development ministry, as against two ministers in the last Council, there are five this time. Sumitra Mahajan, one of the new ministers of state under Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, is yet to get a room while Jaisingrao Gaikwad Patil has managed to occupy a bureaucrat's room.
In the last government, the HRD ministry had just one minister of Cabinet rank (Dr Joshi) and one minister of state, Uma Bharti. Now, there are two Cabinet ministers and three ministers of state. Culture, youth affairs and sports, which was originally part of HRD, is now under Ananth Kumar, who has Cabinet rank. And he has a minister of state, T H Chaoba Singh, to assist him. While Kumar has managed to occupy a room vacated by an officer, Chaoba Singh has got the room occupied earlier by Bharati. But there is a severe shortage of space for their personal staff.
The HRD ministry is headed for more trouble, with the government planning to make elementary education a separate department under a new secretary. Already several deputy secretaries of the ministry are being forced to share rooms, leading to disgruntlement. Now with five ministers in the building, with a host of personal staff, and the government appointing new secretaries, the corridors of Shastri Bhawan will be overcrowded. "We are looking at some way of accommodating all of them," said a senior official in the ministry. "Maybe moving out some of them."
Other office complexes face a similar situation. Vasundhararaje Scindia took over the small-scale industries department at Udyog Bhawan, where too there are several new ministers. A personal assistant of Scindia said they are hunting for rooms. "There are too many ministers here," he observed.
Urban development department officials said their ministers and staff would have to manage in the "existing space". He said if they are ready to move out of the "prime areas, we can give them more space". He said the government would now have to seriously consider the proposal made by former urban development minister Ram Jethmalani to shift some ministries out of the capital.
At Udyog Bhawan, the urban development ministry itself has been split into two to accommodate both Jagmohan and Satyanarain Jatiya, both Cabinet-rank ministers. The former has got urban development, while the latter has urban employment and poverty alleviation. Bandaru Dattatreya has returned as a minister of state.
In South Block, two ministers of state have joined Defence Minister George Fernandes. Both Harin Pathak and Bachi Singh Rawat have been accommodated in rooms earlier used by bureaucrats. Similar problems are being faced in North Block where the home and finance ministries are located.
Meanwhile, sources in the personnel ministry said they are expecting a deluge of requests from ministers for personal staff. With 70 ministers, several of them first-timers, the hunt is on for reliable junior staff. Seasoned officials who have worked with earlier ministers are already queuing up at the newcomers' doors for appointments. "There are some seasoned chaps in the personal staff of someone or the other all the time," said the sources.
Officials on the staff of those members of the earlier Vajpayee government who are no longer ministers, like Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, have stopped attending office, while some have started hunting for suitable postings with new entrants.
"Every minister appoints at least 10 personnel on his staff. This can go up in the case of Cabinet ministers. We will be flooded with requests in the coming days," the sources said.
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