For the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which had a tryst with electoral victory in Punjab for the first time little over four months back, the lack of administrative experience and some “restless” first-time legislators has already posed a big challenge to Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, who seems to be tumbling from one administrative “shock” to another.
The latest is the incident involving his Health Minister Chetan Singh Jouramajra, who triggered a storm when he “humiliated” Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS) Vice-Chancellor Dr Raj Bahadur by forcing him to lie down on a damaged mattress in front of staff and patients at Guru Gobind Singh Medical College, Faridkot, during an inspection.
The video of the minister virtually pushing the prominent surgeon on the mattress kicked up a row with the opposition parties calling for the former’s resignation. Though the chief minister did admit that the incident was unfortunate, he blamed his opponents for “turning it political”.
Notwithstanding AAP’s assertion that the minister was upset at the lack of cleanliness at the hospital, the optics clearly did not do the government any good. As regional TV channels played out Dr Raj Bahadur’s video, Mann — supervising the government drive to take possession of 2,828 acres of illegally encroached prime land from 15 influential encroachers — went down the rundown. The damage had been done.
Almost 150 days into the saddle in Punjab, such incidents have put AAP in the firing line for alleged lack of administrative experience. The first-time legislators, according to officials, are “crossing the line” far too often. “They are just not able to comprehend that they are in power and need to be more mature in dealing with officials,” commented a senior officer.
The officials lament that the lines are being crossed brazenly. Earlier this month, AAP MLA from Jalandhar West, Sheetal Angural, peeved officials when he went to the district administrative office in Jalandhar and tried to pull up staff and officials while going live on his Facebook page. Even as he publicly rebuked officials for levelling allegations of corruption, agitated officials went on a strike. Angural was forced to apologise to the officials to return to work.
“The legislators are running amok. They cannot demean officials who are on the field implementing schemes. There is frustration building up against how ministers and MLAs are treating the officials,’’ alleged leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Partap Singh Bajwa.
The Opposition alleges that the chief minister seems to have lost control over his flock. “He needs to rein them in before it’s too late,’’ said a senior Akal Dal leader. The allegations find root in several such instances.
On July 13, AAP MLA from Ludhiana South, Rajinder Pal Kaur Chhina’s video went viral in which she was seen rebuking a police officer on duty for conducting a search in her constituency. The MLA was heard questioning the lady officer for not taking her permission before conducting the search.
With the officialdom increasingly getting restive with the elected government, some of the bureaucrats are seeking a “way out”.
Half-a-dozen IAS officers of the Punjab cadre have sought central deputations. Those opting for central deputation after the Mann government took over include 1988-batch Ravneet Kaur, 1990-batch Anirudh Tiwari, 1991-batch Seema Jain, 1992-batch KAP Sinha, 1998-batch S Karuna Raju and 2000-batch Rahul Tewari.
To make matters worse for the Mann government are frequent resignations of the top legal officers. Just over four months after he was appointed, senior advocate Anmol Rattan Singh Sidhu submitted his resignation from the Advocate General’s post. Though he cited “personal reasons”, many believed his quitting was more to do with just a personal decision.
Sources said the exit of Sidhu corresponded with the inordinate delays in finalising the list of law officers who would have worked with him. Despite taking over as the AG almost four months ago, the team could not be finalised.
The government had, in March, extended the contractual term of the existing law officers and the process of appointing them was initiated soon after. But the list was never finalised.
“The government is perhaps still to come to terms with the fact that they are not the Opposition and stop looking at the entire bureaucracy with suspicion. The government cannot implement its governance agenda if they have frequent run-ins with the administration,” commented an officer.