Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why Mamata Banerjee is shifting chief minister's office to HRBC building?

Why Mamata Banerjee is shifting chief minister's office to HRBC building?

By Tamal Sengupta, ET Bureau | 31 Aug, 2013, 04.17AM IST

Now in so far as the plan goes, 11 departments including the chief minister's office will be shifted to Howrah in the first phase. Now in so far as the plan goes, 11 departments including the chief minister's office will be shifted to Howrah in the first phase.
Historically chief ministers of West Bengal have operated from the banks of the Lal-Dighi, the huge water body bang in front of Writers' Buildings. The name perhaps came about because its waters turned red with the colours of Holi when the family of Sabarna Roy Chowdhury, Calcutta's first zamindar, observed Basant Purnima around the temple of Shyam Rai, the family deity, situated close by.

In that sense, Lal Dighi pre-existed the Marxists and actually, even Job Charnock! When she swept to power in May 2011, Mamata Banerjee followed suit and took charge at Writers Buildings. But sometime after Durga Puja this year, she will be moving from the banks of Lal Dighi to, what you may refer to, as the Triveni Sangam, for the new G+14 multi storied building she has identified at Shibpur in Howrah, has three arms of the second Hooghly Bridge surrounding it.

Seen from a distance, the building seems to stand plumb in the middle of these three arms, like a dot in the middle of a triangle.

Whether it is just a temporary shift, or a more permanent one, Shibpur is thrilled. "It's simply unbelievable that the administrative headquarters of West Bengal would shift to Shibpur" residents gush, all in unison. "Howrah Shibpur is over 500 years old, and this is the first time ever that a chief minister has chosen to give this place importance enough so as to move in here. God bless her," says Aloke Gupta, president of a local club in Shibpur which was founded in the year 1914.

"Howrah is a 500 year old city while Kolkata is more than 300 years. We now want Didi (Mamata Banerjee) to stay in Howrah and run her administration from here," Gupta adds.


For the first time that Bengal will be ruled from outside the iconic Writers' Buildings since 1777 when Thomas Lyon designed the sprawling seat of power. Writers' Buildings squats over 4.5 lakh square feet space. It has 180 rooms in four blocks.

To the original structure, a huge number of cubicles and small rooms were set up to house the expanding number of bureaucrats, ministers and government officials. Even portions of the splendid corridors were converted into temporary rooms with plywood veneers and partition. Cooped up in these tiny pigeonholes are several key IAS officers.

Most of these official shanties along the corridors came up in the 34 year Marxist rule. Fire safety norms were thrown to the winds and over the decades, Writers' Buildings has virtually become a hellhole waiting for a disaster to happen. Recent reports from the fire services departments support this fact. There are about 4,500 employees at Writers' and everyday, nearly 10,000 people visit ministers and senior government officials.

Talking to ET, fire services minister Javed Ahmed Khan said the "renovation" of Writers' had become a dire necessity. "We will have to convert the building into a complete fire safe zone and to enable that, we will have to shift the departments." Chief minister Mamata Banerjee herself visited several departments after she took charge in 2011.

"I am very surprised to see the pathetic plight of state government employees. They work in dingy rooms. After all, they are also human beings and they have the right to have a proper working place. Look at the electric wiring. In many corridors these electric wiring hang dangerously. An accident can happen anytime. We are shifting to HRBC buildings to enable our PWD department to carry out the job of renovation at Writers' Buildings," she said.


Now in so far as the plan goes, 11 departments including the chief minister's office will be shifted to Howrah in the first phase.

These include the police directorate, disaster management cell, the ministries of agriculture, minority affairs development, law and judiciary, public works, information & cultural affairs, finance and home. These departments will return to Writers' Buildings after the renovation.

While a senior PWD official said at least six months will be required to renovate Writers' Buildings, many others feel the huge task will take much more time. "The chief minister wants to give it a corporate look and it is very difficult to carry out the job in just six months," an official said refusing to be named. The shifting process could begin from the middle of September as Mamata plans to start work from HRBC from October 1, a day before Mahatma Gandhi's birthday.

A major fire at AMRI Hospital in December 2011, which claimed more than 100 lives, acted as a catalyst and the chief minister became more worried about fire safety issues at Writers'. She began

searching for a suitable location for shifting out of Writers' Buildings so that renovations could begin.


Once day when the chief minister was driving back from Howrah after holding a campaign rally during the recent panchayat elections there, her convoy used the Vidyasagar Setu (second hooghly bridge). There she saw the 14-storey HRBC building.

When she became aware that the building belonged to her own government she instructed her officers to make arrangements for shifting her office to this HRBC building. Later, senior bureaucrats suggested that she remove all government departments to this newly constructed building.

Unfortunately space proved to be a constraint as it was just 2,46,000 square feet as opposed to Writers' 4.5 lakh square feet area. So instead of the 30 odd departments, it was decided to shift eleven departments in the first phase while the rest of the departments would be relocated at Writers' Buildings again. It was also decided not to shift the Pension department to prevent documents from going missing.

The Public Works Department is handling the renovation process. The department has asked Jadavpur University and Bengal Engineering & Science University to prepare a status paper on the renovation required and the PWD department will carry out the renovation job on the basis of the status paper prepared by the two universities.

Though the government has faced criticism for not consulting experts and renowned architects, PWD minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar says, "our engineers and architects are competent enough to carry out the job on their own. They have all the original building plans of Writers' Buildings which were modified in the year 1800."


While Writers' Buildings is a 236-year old heritage structure, HRBC is a brand new building and the only high-rise close to the river Hooghly in Shibpur area. From the top floor of the building, one can view easily the Hooghly, part of Garden Reach dock, Kolkata's Maidan areas and Victoria Memorial, Grand Hotel, the Race Course and the entire view of the Maidan greenery.

The view is likely to call the painter in Mamata Banerjee. Though she has not yet been to the top floor of the building, she has realised that she can see both sides of the river from her office chamber at HRBC. One of the four walls of her chamber at HRBC will be made of glass so that the chief minister can see the outside view by sitting on her chair.

Senior ministers revealed that the antechamber of her new office is stocked with all her painting paraphernalia. "She would be able to switch over to her favourite subject---painting, and thus would be able to avoid monotonous job by engaging herself in drawing pictures. Her new office will really suit her," one of them said.

The HRBC building was constructed by the Left Front government to accommodate thousands of garment manufacturers from Howrah and Metiabruz in South 24-Parganas. Several banks were approached to put up ATMs there and lodging facility provided for traders and buyers. The building has an underground car parking facility too.

The previous government spent Rs 75 crore to construct the building but did not get to implement their plan as the CPIM lost to Mamata Banerjee in 2011. Now the garments park will turn into the state's principal headquarters, for the time being.

Many in Mamata's circle believe she may not leave HRBC building even after Writers' Buildings are renovated. "She likes the building so much that she may not leave it," said a senior minister close to her.


There are some negative aspects about the HRBC building. It is not suitable to accommodate Z + category VIPs like Mamata Banerjee. Then it is located between three flyovers that are not manned properly by the police. Mamata's security advisor Virendra has already checked the building to detect the loopholes.

Writers' Buildings is comparatively safe. It is easier for her security officials to provide her adequate security ring. Kolkata Police headquarters in Lalbazar is just a stone's throw from Writers' Buildings. But HRBC falls under Shibpur police station and it does not have any expertise to secure VVIPs like the chief minister.

It is reliably learnt that Kolkata Police will be in charge of security at HRBC when the chief minister moves in. The three flyovers will be constantly monitored by mobile police vans. The Howrah district police will assist the Kolkata Police with the security.

The office of the chief and home secretaries and director general of state police will also be shifted to HRBC building.

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