Lucknow, May 18: He has been Mr. Congeniality for most of the Uttar Pradesh bureaucracy over the last four years. But 'friendly' Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is now changing his ways. And the slack bureaucrats are seeing a different side of the 43-year-old Samajwadi leader as the state assembly elections inch closer.
With several deadlines to meet and time running out for the developmental projects, Akhilesh is proving to be a hard task master. He is sparing no efforts to shake up the bureaucrats from their slumber.
The chief minister has constituted a task force which is keeping a close tab on the progress of several key projects. And Akhilesh himself is reviewing it all every week, one of his close aides said.
The Project Monitoring Group (PMG) formed by the chief minister is acting as his "eyes and ears" and has held more than 40 meetings in the last few months.
The idea is to fast-track projects and meet deadlines. No wonder, then, that the officials are facing the heat: the carrot-and-stick approach seems to be working because the projects have to be completed between October and December this year.
The all-powerful PMG comprises Chief Secretary Alok Ranjan, Chief Minister's Secretary Parthasarathy Sen Sharma and Principal Secretary (Finance) Rahul Bhatnagar. The group, which is monitoring 21 projects, is working with a clear vision, informed sources told IANS.
The PMG holds "crisp meetings with an open attitude, peppered by pep talk and threadbare discussions to clear the bottlenecks". As a result, "around 80 percent projects are on track," said an IAS officer who often bears the "brunt of the focussed approach".
"Unlike the usually sluggish bureaucracy of Uttar Pradesh, the PMG is different. What is happening is surely heartening," a senior bureaucrat said with a chuckle.
Sen Sharma, who is the convener of the group, pointed out that the minutes of the weekly meetings are prepared soon after the meeting ends. And within no time, the minutes are vetted by everyone who matters, right from the chief secretary to the ultimate boss Akhilesh Yadav.
"Since the chief minister has a penchant for meeting deadlines, the PMG ensures that the same is followed in letter and spirit," he added. Clearly, the minutes of the PMG meetings have the signature of Yadav himself.
Today, the PMG is looming large, powered by Akhilesh. From tightening screws in the law department, weeding out legal wrangling in the Inner Ring Road project in Agra, brokering peace between Lucknow Development Authority (LDA) and the power department over a cycle track in the CG City project (a new township in Lucknow's upscale Gomti Nagar Extension), to expediting work at the Jai Prakash Narain International Convention Centre, the PMG is at its best to force the lackadaisical bureaucrats overcome their inertia.
Earlier this week, Akhilesh transferred more than 100 IAS, IPS and PCS officials. The move is being seen as the chief minister's way to remind the bureaucracy that time was fast running out for them.
While many in the state bureaucracy give the credit for this "God-sent speed" in government works to the young chief minister, political opponents say that this is largely because the assembly polls are scheduled for 2017.
"With Akhilesh Yadav having very little to show in all sectors, he is trying to hold on to the last straw to stay afloat," BJP spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak said.
Bahujan Samaj Party leader Naseemuddin Siddiqui echoed this. "This is just a way to fool the people. The Samajwadi Party government is a big zero on all fronts," he said.
However, for the 200 million people in the state, even some action is enough a reason to cheer!