Bureaucratic circles rife with speculation over who will be Tamil Nadu's top civil servant

‘Who is the next chief secretary?’ This question has been doing the rounds among civil servants in the State as the present Chief Secretary (CS) Sheela Balakrishnan is due for retirement next month.

As the Centre’s consent has to be taken if the State government chooses to extend her services, the chances of such a course of action appear unlikely, given the nature of ties between the State and the Central government. If the decision regarding the extension comes after the announcement of the schedule of the Lok Sabha elections, which is expected anytime now, the Election Commission’s approval becomes necessary as the CS is regarded a poll-related officer.

According to a section of civil servants, the choice may get narrowed down to T.S. Sridhar, an officer of the 1978 batch of the Indian Administrative Service, and additional chief secretary/commissioner of revenue administration, and Mohan Verghese Chunkath, also from the same batch, heading the State environment and forests department. There are seven officers of the 1981 batch with the CS rank.

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Merry time

Life has its ups and downs, and retired IAS officer Ashok Varadhan Shetty seems to have had his fair share. But the transition from being hounded by the State government to sharing the dais with the President of the country seems to have been rather quick.

Mr. Shetty was among the most powerful officers in the previous DMK government as he had the ear of the Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin. When the AIADMK came to power, he predictably fell from favour and opted for voluntary retirement. The State government challenged his VRS, but lost in the Supreme Court.

Now, he has taken on a new avatar as the vice-chancellor of Indian Maritime University and successfully conducted its first convocation, with President Pranab Mukherjee in the chair. Some at Fort St. George would not have relished this turn of events.

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Mind your words

When a few tran/sfers and postings were made last week, there was some surprise, and then, there wasn’t. Some officers said they suspected the action targeted a single person, and that others were only incidental. One of the officers was transferred from a pretty key position just a few days after his run-in with the police, and the prominent coverage that incident received in the media was among the reasons, if one were to go by the whispers in the corridors.

Some officers said that speaking to the media, especially sua sponte, is a strict no-no in this regime. After the Saturday night incident involving the officer, several versions appeared in sections of the media and the officer was quoted extensively on his version of the story. Their argument was that even if the IAS officer had his own version of the story, it should have been presented in an official forum only. Say, for instance, during the enquiry conducted by a senior IPS officer last week.

While there were strong rumours the constable involved in the incident was suspended after enquiry, it turned out that was quite untrue; the commission had found no grounds to recommend such an action. At the ‘highest commission of enquiry,’ however, the IAS officer himself did not fare too well.

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Vision awry

For almost a couple of years now, eye care major Aravind Eye Hospital has been awaiting approval from the CMDA to commence work on its ambitious project in Chennai.

After procuring a seven-acre land in Maduravoyal, the hospital submitted a proposal to construct a multi-storey facility, with relevant documents. However, the file is said to be pending approval for several months now and CMDA officials apparently told the applicants to seek the nod at the ‘appropriate’ level.

The hospital has, to its credit, thousands of free eye surgeries performed to help the poor and contributes immensely to the State, achieving the blindness control targets at the national level.

In its 700-bed facility proposed in Chennai, the hospital promises world-class infrastructure and more importantly, about 60 per cent free eye surgeries. With no indication on the status of the project file, the hospital seems to have hit a blind spot.

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