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Transfers at Whims of Political Masters

The recent transfer of tourism director Ameya Abhayankar barely sounds normal as it came midway through his posting and just a few days ahead of the peak tourism season. No less abnormal is his replacement by a just promoted official Sanjeev Gauns Dessai. Dessai is the fifth director of tourism department in less than four years since the BJP government took office in March 2012, his predecessors being Swapnil Naik, P Mathew Samuel, Nikhil Dessai and Abhayankar. Why was a junior promotee appointed to a post earmarked for IAS cadre? In exceptional cases in the past state-level officials too were appointed as tourism director, but they were senior and well experienced, not newly promoted like Dessai. Abhayankar had brought in tangible changes in the tourism department which were well appreciated by the captains of tourism industry. By transferring him midway the government has violated the Supreme Court ruling which stipulated a fixed tenure for officials. Was it a case of the officer entering the bad books of his political masters? The transfer order was issued on Saturday (which was a second Saturday) and a government holiday but made public on Sunday. The government directed the transferred official to relinquish his post within three days and take up the new posting.
Changing directors four times in 45 months is an indication that the political masters are playing some hidden game in the removal from and appointment to the key post in a department that is creating wealth for the state and entrepreneurs. The authorities should not allow the tourism department to go the mining department way with placing of officials of their choice. Officials need to be given a free hand to ensure that they make a contribution according to their competence. Frequent change of director has irked the tourism industry, with captains lamenting removal of Abhayankar, saying he had made licensing and registration in the department easier through online process. The state government is in the process of formulating a new tourism policy in which the transferred official could have played an important role. Various other tourism-related projects have been planned for execution in near future. The change of director at this juncture could lead to change in priorities and derailment of the processes initiated by the transferred official.
Since tourism is a sensitive industry it needs total and dedicated care; projects in pipeline should be made to see light of the day. Goa tourism is facing stiff competition from its rivals and it is necessary that authorities take care to give a distinct identity to state tourism. Only an official who has vision and courage to withstand pressures from any quarter should head the department so that goods are delivered in public interest and not to serve the private interests of political masters. The need of the hour is that Goa tourism should remain competitive and innovative. Development of tourism should be well planned and officials posted in the department should get tenure of at least three years so that their plans are completed in a time-bound manner. The government should also ensure that the officials concerned also draw a roadmap for implementation and completion of projects initiated by them; deviation from a drawn roadmap should not be allowed at any cost. It should also be kept in mind by the succeeding officials that the priorities drawn by their predecessors are not changed to suit anyone’s interest.
The government’s latest decision on transfers has not gone well with the senior officials of the state who feel that it has set a wrong precedent by placing one of the juniormost officials in the state administration to head an important department of the government. The senior officials also feel let down by Chief Secretary R K Shrivastava who is also the state tourism secretary for not overruling the appointment of one of the juniormost officials and abiding by the past practice of appointing only senior officials to key posts. They feel that placement of one of the juniormost officials in a key post might make him vulnerable to the games of vested interests within and outside the government. Whether the new incumbent would measure up to his seniors and carry out his duties without fear and favour would be known in days ahead. Abrupt transfers lead to demoralization of the bureaucracy which should be avoided. The government should be transparent in its functioning and the officials should not be transferred to suit the whims of political masters. At the same time the government must ensure that they complete the task given to them in a time-bound manner. It is time the government walks the talk and pursues the goal of taking Goa to the league of top tourist destinations.

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