Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Jayant Patil interview

Shubhangi Khapre / DNATuesday, July 7, 2009 19:18 IST Email

At 47, Jayant Patil reckons that wielding a lathi to streamline the functioning of the home department in Maharashtra is more challenging than pulling the purse strings in the state finance ministry.

Son of the late politician Rajaram 'Bapu' Patil, the young engineering graduate (he holds a bachelor's degree in engineering from Mumbai's Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute, as it was then known), took a conscious decision to follow in the footsteps of his father and never looked back.

Patil, who represents Walva constituency in Sangli district of Western Maharashtra, admits candidly that financial management was easier than tackling the complex police department. But Patil is not known to leave any task unaccomplished, and even in the home ministry he is determined to bring reforms in its administration and in the police set-up.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Maharashtra's home minister Jayant Patil:

You held the finance portfolio between 1999 and 2008. After 26/11, you took charge of the home ministry. What are the issues confronting you?

Let me admit that home is very challenging and interesting. My immediate concern is to streamline the administration, both in the police department and the home ministry. If you walk into my chamber at Mantralaya, you will notice that the majority of the crowd endlessly waiting wants me to consider transfer proposals. Well, there is no end. Any Tom, Dick, and Harry walks up with a transfer proposal at every level -- constable, police inspector, assistant police commissioner, etc. What is more, it is often also routed through elected members (MLAs and MLCs).

My endeavour is to introduce a mechanism to stop such ad-hoc transfers. I want to bring professionalism in the home department.

But the transfer menace is integral to every department. How will you combat it?

To begin with, I want to set up a portal updated with profiles of all 1.86 lakh police personnel [in the state]. We will involve professionals like Tata Consultancy Services to evolve the portal tailored to suit our requirements. Apart from giving the service and personal details of every individual, there will be performance grading based on numbers. For instance, it won't be A, A+, B. Instead, we will mark them with 40 marks out of 100 or 60 out of 100. Moreover, the field and executive ratings will be separated for every individual to ascertain everyone's strengths and weaknesses. There will be complete data fed in the portal. This will bring transparency and accountability.

But what about the political transfers at the top?

I am against political transfers at any level. Why should they be encouraged? Is it not unfair to allow one police officer 20 years of executive service while another continues to be in field service, or vice versa, without any rationale? I want to bring fair play in the police force.

When senior officers are posted in places against their wishes, they often go on protest leave and no action is taken against anybody.

Yes, I am aware of the problems. Last week I held a meeting with Mumbai Police commissioner D Sivanandan and director-general of police SS Virk. We are going to make it mandatory for police officers to resume work within 15 days of getting their transfer orders. Action will be taken against anybody violating the norms.

But often officers transferred to naxalite-infested Gadchiroli district equate it with a punishment posting.

I want bright and capable officers to take up challenging jobs in sensitive zones. I know police officers are reluctant to go to Vidarbha because of the shortage of force [there]. We have to address the problems at the roots. At the same time I cannot justify why one officer who is posted in Amravati or Nagpur should languish for several years because nobody else is willing to take up the job.

After 26/11, the RD Pradhan committee has come up with several recommendations. Do you think they are justified?

We have already started the process of implementing the suggestions. We have trained 220 candidates out of a total of 354 for Force 1. We also want to upgrade their training to Stage 2 with the help of international experts. Young graduates with knowledge of English will be exposed to the rigorous training imparted in Israel or New York. The special squad will essentially be stationed in Mumbai. Some members could be posted in Pune, Nagpur, and Marathwada.

How would you tackle the systems failure in intelligence?

We have to scale up the state intelligence gathering units. We have recruited 45 bright double graduates. Another 100 candidates will be recruited as assistants in the intelligence units. We will also appoint 87 intelligence officers. Unlike in the past, these officers will focus on intelligence gathering and related activities. They will be kept out of transfer hassles in the department, which are unrelated to their subjects.

What is lacking in this department?

A senior officer who is heading the intelligence unit painstakingly cultivates sources. But the moment he is transferred to another department, the sources fade away. Now a lot of investment is made to cultivate the sources. It should be a continuous process as is done in RAW [the Research and Analysis Wing, the central agency that is supposed to collect external intelligence]. I aim to bring a professional approach through mechanisms as in RAW when it comes to running the state intelligence unit.

Why did the government refuse to make public the RD Pradhan report?

The report talks about the chain of command in intelligence, etc, which cannot be revealed in public.

Did the report condemn any ministers?

There is no mention of any ministers in the report.

Are you satisfied with the policing in the city?

Against all odds they are doing well. But I want to bring in more efficiency and accountability. The beat marshal will be equipped with hi-tech [sic] motorbikes complete with equipment and protective gear to enable him to reach any spot within 1.5 to 2.5 minutes instead of the present eight minutes.

The state elections are due in October. If the government is voted back to power, what will you choose? Home or finance?

I cannot comment. I can say I enjoyed my tenure as finance minister in the past. I am happy with the challenges in the home ministry. If within the next three months I am able to streamline the system through portals and administrative reforms, it will be here to stay for good. Portfolios cannot be decided by individuals.

What differences do you find when dealing with officials in the home ministry as compared to those in the finance ministry?

In the police force you always have to be very cautious. If they come to know your weaknesses, that's the beginning of the end... Overall, I have no problems dealing with them as I always approach the subjects professionally. I like to talk straight. So far it has been good.

When you stepped into politics, what subject was close to your heart?

I am an engineer by profession. In that sense I don't know how much of my engineering skills are being used in running the government. But I must tell you that when I was shortlisted to become a minister for the first time by Sharad Pawar, I told his close aide [secretary] to suggest the tourism portfolio for me. She never conveyed it to Pawar Saheb.

I have never asked for any portfolio. When I became finance minister, I was told by my political mentor [Pawar] that I have to take up the challenge of economic reforms. Similarly, the home ministry came to me after the Mumbai terrorist attack. I understand the formidable task I have to handle.

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