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Partymen have their say, reforms on way out

By V. Jayanth

NEWS ANALYSIS

CHENNAI, JUNE 19. Continuing with her post-election shake-up, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa today appointed ruling All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) functionaries to head 15 state-owned corporations and boards. It was a clear signal of the ascent of the party and its influence on the government and a marked decline in the fortunes of bureaucrats.

Today's appointment of 15 political heads to even some sick corporations is also interpreted as another reversal of the reforms undertaken by Ms. Jayalalithaa during her first three years in this term. From the standpoint of merging or winding up some of the non-profitable public sector units, she has now added to their burden by posting Chairpersons.

Among those who have won these coveted posts are at least six AIADMK candidates who lost the recent Lok Sabha elections, a couple of those who did not get the party ticket and some old faithfuls.

Some of these are key postings such as Chairmanship of the Housing Board, the Small Industries Development Corporation and the Tourism Development Corporation. There are also undertakings which are fighting for survival and have been identified for closure. They can hardly be expected to support such appointments.

The appointment of party functionaries at this juncture is seen as a clear indication that the government will not touch the corporations for the next two years, even if the Chairpersons are changed for whatever reason.

In an appendix to his 2003-04 budget, Finance Minister C. Ponnaiyan, stated, "the government proposes to generally withdraw its presence from the manufacturing sector. We have formulated our disinvestment policy on the lines set out by the Government of India. The government will take up disinvestment of its stake in all public sector and cooperative sector enterprises in the manufacturing sector. We shall also restructure all the remaining public sector undertakings to make them efficient and cost-effective."

That was the stated policy of the government and the best attempt at restructuring was made in the transport corporations. But now, the government may be reviewing its policy and abandoning the path of reforms.

According to a senior AIADMK functionary, "Some of our Ministers and district secretaries have succeeded in convincing our party leader that there is no point in trusting the bureaucrats to deliver. It is only our partymen who will stand loyal and also explain the policies and programmes of the government to the people. For all the bold decisions the Chief Minister took and the achievements of our government, we could not convince the people this time. That is why the baton has been passed on to politicians to communicate better with the people."

There is concern among bureaucrats not only because of the political appointments but also in the signals that came from the two recent, major shuffle of officials. "Some of the good performers have been consciously sidelined and shunted to obscure postings. Some IAS officers have got punishment postings for no fault of theirs. Many Collectors have been posted as Deputy Secretaries without any work in some departments. There seems to be a determined effort to undermine the bureaucracy," argues a senior official, who was earlier a key member of the officers' association.

He says informal discussions will take place in due course on the latest developments.

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