PUNES CITIZENS ARE PROTESTING ON THE STREETS, KETAN TANNA EXPLAINS WHY
“Has there been any precedent of such vindictive transfer? Two transfers within six days? If we don’t protest now, we will be failing as citizens in baking an officer who has stood up to the high and mighty,” softly whispers Roshan Billimora, a schoolteacher, though her eyes burn in anger.
Waghmare and Billimora are just two of the thousands of Pune citizens who have taken to the streets since last Sunday in protest against Bhatia’s arbitrary transfer.
Waghmare, who is poor, does not understand IAS and bureaucracy or malafide transfers. All he knows is that “Bhatia Sahib” was the one who allowed him and his 3,200 fellow six-seater rickshaw owners to ply in Pune despite protests from the powerful three-seated auto-rickshaw union.
Billimora, who is affluent and a member of the “national Society for Clean Cities”, is convinced that Bhatia is the last hope for Pune, a city that has been engulfed by unplanned, haphazard and illegal constructions. A nightmare that Bhatia tried to resolve.
The officer, who has been transferred 24 times in his 31 years in the IAS, was the Pune divisional commissioner when he was moved to the post of PMC commissioner on March 8. In his one week in office, he razed many illegal structures, including a disco in Hotel holiday Inn belonging to Girish Vyas (son-in -law of former chief minister Manohar Joshi), released a list of 163 property tax defaulters owing PMC more than Rs 1 lakh, and transferred five PMC lawyers who had been monopolizing their post. Within two days of the defaulters list being made public, PMC collected more than Rs 50 lakh.
It was then that the BJP-Sena government of Maharahtra struck. It literally sent Bhartiya to oblivion by posting him last Saturday as commissioner of archives in Mumbai.
Chief Minister Narayan Rane has justified the transfer, claiming Bhatia leaked to the press a confidential letter he had written to the state chief secretary- in which he accused the latter of holding up vital rehabilitation work in the prestigious Krishna Valley development (KVD) project.
But, each day since the transfer, Puneites have staged demonstrations, rallies and public meetings addressed by the likes of social Activist Anna Hazare. On Wednesday, nearly 5,000 persons cutting across the entire spectrum of Pune society demonstrated and a formed a human chain outside the PMC, under the banner of Pune Kriti Samiti headed by former IAS officer Avinash Dharmadhikari.
“So far, 176 small and big organizations have joined us and we have collected nearly 60,000 signatures against Bhatia’s transfer,” says Dharmadikari. “An honest and sincere officer has been transferred because he demolished illegal constructions of the high and mighty.”
He adds, “It is Pune today. Tomorrow it could be any other place in India. It could be any other bureaucrat. It is time for all sections to come together and fight for a clean and efficient public life.”
Two Public Interest Litigations (PILs) have been filed in the Mumbai high court by Express Citizens Forum and Pune corporator Nitin Jagtap. A division bench has directed the state government to file an affidavit. The case is slated to be heard on Tuesday.
Pune will observe a bandh on that day, while Dharmadhikari and three others will go on an indefinite fast. Some like advocate Chavan of the Dlit Cobra group have threatened self-immolation.
Puneites settled abroad have started a cyber campaign. E-mails from all over the world have literally clogged the WWW.punecity.com address, and are occupying a better part of the space in local newspapers. All have questioned the arbitrary transfer system in the IAS.
By Ketan Narottam Tanna