Relief department seeks relief from frequent transfers

In Less Than 3 Years, 8 Bureaucrats Have Held Its Charge

Srinagar, Publish Date: Nov 24 2017 12:48AM | Updated Date: Nov 24 2017 12:48AM
Relief department seeks relief from frequent transfersRepresentational Pic

When the PDP and BJP joined hands to form the government in J&K in 2015, one of their first major decisions was to create a separate ministry of the Relief and Rehabilitation for reaching out to the 2014 flood victims and strengthening disaster management preparedness in the state. 

But two-and-a-half years down the line, the department itself seems to be in need of relief from frequent shifting of its administrative heads.

As many as eight bureaucrats have been assigned the charge of the department, either on substantive basis or as additional charge, since the ministry was created in 2015.

The frequent shifting of administrative heads of the new department has raised questions on government’s seriousness about strengthening the disaster management preparedness in the state. 

“How can the department function when there is so much instability in its hierarchy? You need to give ample time to bureaucrats to get familiar with functioning of government departments so that they can deliver. If bureaucrats are refusing to serve at this position, then they should be taken to task,” said a bureaucrat on the condition of anonymity.

In its first major reshuffle in bureaucracy on 15 March 2015, the government had appointed Mandeep Bhandari as the head of the Relief and Rehabilitation department. 

Bhandari, who was then chief executive of Mata Vaishno Devi Board, did not join the assignment.

For nearly two months, nobody was at the helm in the department, which holds immense importance given the fact that J&K is highly vulnerable to natural disasters. In the past 12 years, 1655 lives have been lost to natural disasters in the state.

On 18 May 2015, the cabinet posted Dheeraj Gupta, who had then returned from central deputation, as administrative secretary of the department. 

Gupta functioned as administrative head of the department for only five months before being replaced by Sandeep Nayak.

On 19 October 2015, Nayak, who was then principal secretary PDD, was shifted to Relief and Rehabilitation department following his “differences” with deputy CM and PDD minister Nirmal Singh. Before being getting fully acquainted with functioning of the department, Nayak proceeded on a 40-day leave in November.

On 27 November that year, the government ordered that Navin Kumar Choudhary, shall hold the charge of the post of administrative secretary, Relief and Rehabilitation department, in addition to his own duties, till Nayak returns from leave.

When the state came under governor’s rule in January 2016 following the death of then CM Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, Muhammad Afzal Bhat was assigned the additional charge of the department. The decision was taken during the state administrative council meeting chaired by Governor NN Vohra on 25 February 2016.

Bhat’s stint as ad hoc head of the department also did not last long. In his place, on 29 July 2016, the state’s powerful bureaucrat and incumbent chief secretary BB Vyas was burdened with the responsibility.

When Vyas took over as chief secretary of the state on 29 April 2017, Muhammad Ashraf Mir was assigned the charge.

Mir too had a brief stint in the department because of his appointment as information commissioner.

For 15 days, between October 12 and 27, the department remained headless.

On October 28 this year, the government assigned the charge of the department to Shafiq Raina, apart from posting him as administrative secretary of the revenue department.

But 16 days later on November 13, Raina, who is attaining superannuation in January 2018, was given full-fledged charge of the department. 

“Was this department created for facilitating the relief and rehabilitation of the flood victims or sabotaging it? Going by the frequent transfers (of its administrative heads) it seems that the latter is true,” the bureaucrat said.

 “How can government spend crores of rupees provided by the Centre for strengthening disaster management in the state when administrative secretaries of the department entrusted with the task are regularly shifted,” he said.

Under the 14th Finance Commission, the state government is entitled to get Rs 1408 crore as State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF).

Repeated attempts to seek concerned minister Abdur Rehman Veeri’s comments proved futile.

The practice of posting separate administrative head for the Relief and Rehabilitation started in March 2015. The department was formally separated from the revenue department in late 2016 by making necessary amendments in the J&K Government Business Rules. It was then christened as department of Disaster Management, Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction.

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