Mamata Banerjee dropped by unannounced at the New Secretariat on Monday morning to discover that Jamai Sashthi had arrived a day early in offices steeped in a work culture of sign and scoot.
“Ki? Lokjon shobai koi? Ekhon thekei Jamai Sashthi? (What is this? Where are all the employees? Are they celebrating Jamai Sashthi from today?),” the chief minister exclaimed on entering room number 22 on the seventh floor of the building, barely 500 metres from Writers’.
A startled employee of the department of power and non-conventional energy sources, one of the few in the room, jumped out of his chair to correct her. “No, madam, I mean Jamai Sashthi is tomorrow. Attendance is low for no particular reason,” upper division assistant Goutam Mukherjee said.
The attendance register showed that 49 of the 74 employees had reported for duty, but a head count revealed no more than 30. “Some have stepped out for a break, Madam,” a voice from the back said when Mamata asked where the rest were.
She didn’t look at her watch — it was 11.45am — to find out how much time the truant employees had spent warming their chairs before stepping out for “a break”. She didn’t bother asking for a list of names either.
“If this is the condition today, what will you all do tomorrow? It’s a restricted holiday,” the chief minister said, her tone a tad indulgent.
Mukherjee replied that restricted holidays were withdrawn two years ago. “Whatever, all of you please work diligently,” Mamata pleaded before leaving the room.
State government employees were entitled to a maximum of two restricted holidays from a choice of three — Jamai Sashthi, Shivratri and Bhaiphonta — till the erstwhile Left Front government added the last one to the list of official holidays and scrapped the other two.
Lest you be filled with sympathy, a babu is entitled to a maximum of 229 days off from work in 365 days. The list reads 30 days of earned leave, 14 days of casual leave, 60 days of medical leave (with half pay), 21 listed holidays and 104 weekends.
Mamata, who has decided not to take even Sundays off, would have wanted at least a better room for herself in the New Secretariat as reward.
“Baba! Subratada-r office-ta ato bhalo, amarta eirokom keno?”(Subratada’s office is so nice, why is mine in this condition?” she protested on entering the power minister’s chamber.
An official explained that the room was damp because former power minister Nirupam Sen — Mamata has that portfolio now — never used it.
Minutes earlier, the chief minister had entered public health and engineering minister Subrata Mukherjee’s refurbished chamber and marvelled at the room with a view.
“Wow! What a sight this is!” she said, enjoying the seventh-floor view of the Howrah bridge and the expanse of the river from the large window.
Mukherjee wasn’t in office but the décor suggested he intends spending more time there than Sen did in his room when he was the power minister. His confidential assistant Debu Roy Chowdhury showed Mamata the changes in the well-lit office with plush chairs and a 42-inch LCD television.
Mamata later asked for the power secretary, but was told he was away at a meeting in Salt Lake. “Next man ke achhe? (Who is the next man?),” she wanted to know, at which joint secretary Piyali Roy Chowdhury turned up in front of her.
The chief minister asked Roy Chowdhury how many people were at work on Monday. “Shobaike bolun thik bhabe kaj korte aar shomoye office aste (Please ask everyone to work properly and come to office on time),” she instructed the official.
After stepping out of the power department, Mamata took the VIP lift to reach the labour department on the 11th floor. The sight of heaps of files on the tables, racks and even on the floors of room number 20 seemed to spoil her mood.
“Why are so many files lying on the desks like this? What about these files on the racks?” she said, pointing to where her eyes went the moment she arrived.
Mamata asked aide Dola Sen for her cellphone and keyed in a number. “I am at the labour department of the New Secretariat building. We immediately need to make a database of all important files before they get damaged or lost,” she told the person taking the call.
Instructions over, her gaze fell on another eyesore. “Why is it so unclean over here? Please be tidy,” the chief minister said of the broken benches and chairs dumped in a corner.
Mamata’s next stop was the first floor, where she scanned the housing department’s office and found a solitary employee at work. “Dekhchhi aapni eka-i kaj korchen. Baakira shob kothay? (I can see you are the only one working. Where are the rest?),” Mamata asked lower division assistant Goutam Kumar Jana.
“Madam, they have been following you around,” he replied, hands folded.
“Very good. Work and stay well,” Mamata said before taking the staircase to reach her black Santro.