Calcutta, Feb. 2: Mamata Banerjee today announced initiatives that offer more power and pecuniary benefits to West Bengal Civil Service (WBCS) officers, many of whom will play an instrumental role in the panchayat polls.
"BDOs are the face of the administration at the grassroots…. Do your job well, treat the common people well and the government will treat you well," the chief minister was quoted as saying by an official who attended the WBCS (Executive) Officers' Association's annual general meeting at the Town Hall this afternoon.
Mamata made it a point to make the officers ' over 1,500 were present ' feel important during her 45-minute speech at the event, held behind closed doors unlike the last edition almost a year ago.
As reward for the "good work" she said they had been doing, Mamata announced a series of incentives. They are:
Eligibility for two additional increments each, at the entry level and during every 8-year promotion;
Reservation of 50 posts, instead of 25, of special secretaries;
Scope for direct communication with the chief minister to get their concerns addressed;
Bridge courses for spoken English, in association with the British Council;
Model schools in districts for children of officers.
"It was clear she wanted all of us to go home happy," said a BDO from West Midnapore.
Not only do the 1,527 WBCS officers make up the backbone of the state administration, the role of the 341 BDOs among them is especially significant.
The BDOs double as returning officers for the gram panchayat and panchayat samiti polls and as additional returning officers at the zilla parishad level.
A state election commission official termed BDOs the "eyes, ears, hands and feet" of the poll panel in the voting season. "The BDOs have discretionary powers… to accept or reject nominations and disqualifying the ineligible ones after scrutiny," he said.
The panchayat polls are significant in that the party bagging most of the 3,351 gram panchayats and the 341 panchayat samitis is expected to set the stage for a "solid performance" in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the Assembly elections scheduled for 2016.
"The Left Front still controls 13 of 17 zilla parishads. But it was the ground they conceded to Trinamul at the gram panchayat and panchayat samiti levels in 2008 that made a huge difference in the parliamentary and Assembly elections," a state government officer said.
A Writers' Buildings source attributed another reason for the focus on the officers: "Madam knows the Left lobby is still the dominant force among the WBCS cadre, once considered the CPM's fief. She has been trying to woo them away from her arch-rivals with such carrots."
The CPM saw the move as an attempt to "control" the rural polls. Central committee member Mohammad Salim said: "The move reeks of a great deal of insecurity. She wants to gain absolute power, even in the panchayat framework, through the bureaucracy. She probably hopes to be able to control the rural elections through such measures."
Mamata today said she was not vindictive. "We have not arrested a single person. We could have done it going by the files of the last 34 years. Only two arrests were made on the high court's order. Had I been vindictive, not a single leader would have remained outside, all would have been in jail," she said at an event in Hooghly's Dadpur.
The comment came two days after The Telegraph reported that the home secretary had asked the CBI why it had not "examined" former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in the Nandigram firing case.