Family owned channel captures minister’s post-election dynamism

BY TERESA REHMAN| IN Regional Media | 03/06/2011
Newly appointed ministers of the Assam government are taking lazy and corrupt official to task, with TV cameras in tow. One of them surprised a languid education department, while another stopped unfit buses on the road.
TERESA REHMAN reports that the media are lapping it up. Pix: Himanta Biswa Sarma
They have been in office just a few days and skeptics were wondering if the ruling Congress in Assam would be complacent in their third consecutive term. Specially when there is practically no Opposition in the new Assembly. Well, they are not. At least some of them are not. And how do we know this? The satellite television channels are there to tell us the compelling stories of these proactive ministers. 

News Live ran a special show on the new Education Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma’s surprise visit to the education department’s headquarters at Guwahati. He shocked the indolent employees sitting languidly with dirt accumulating on their pending files. The education department is one of the most corrupt and ineffective departments.
The show was aptly called ‘Himanta Uncut’ where the firebrand minister went around all the rooms in the office and took the employees by surprise. (This channel is owned by his wife.)  He pointed out at the vacant tables and asked why some of the employees were missing from their seats. Nobody could give a convincing answer and he immediately ordered that they should be given a day off as casual leave. He announced, “The system has changed from today. Get to work all of you.”
He checked a file and asked an employee how many days it takes to process a file. The employee was at a loss and Sarma ordered his suspension. One employee tried to cover up for his absent senior and he was rebuked by the minister. The minister asked him, “How many kids do you have? Do they go to school?” The nervous employee mumbled. Sarma then warned him, “Don’t try to defend others. Do your work properly. I excuse you this time.”
Sarma then went on to pull and arrange the chairs himself in the pension department and told them, “Try to be disciplined and hard-working. The people of Assam do not like you. They call you the worst department.” He asked the employees to go and meet the people of the state in disguise and ask them about their department. The pension department is known for its inefficiency which at times devastates retired school teachers who run from pillar to post for their pension. There have been many instances when upright school teachers have refused to pay bribe to get their pension sanctioned and have had to go without their pension.
When a senior officer walked in late a visibly angry Sarma asked, “How many high schools are there in Assam? How many secondary schools?” The officer blurted out a wrong answer and the minister warned him, “If you come late, how can you expect your subordinates to be on time?” Sarma went from the Directorate of Elementary Education to Secondary Education and then to the Sarva Siksha Abhijan office. All the stunned employees were on their toes and were seen mumbling answers to his uncomfortable queries.
He also questioned them about the rampant corruption in thee department. In the section dealing with college teachers, he asked, “Is this the section where the college teachers of Assam have to deposit a part of their salary so that they get their salaries on time?” The employees seemed to have no answer. He said again, “I have many friends who are college teachers and have told me that.”

Earlier, TV channels also showed Sarma making a surprise inspection to the newly set up Barpeta Medical College and Hospital campus and ordered suspension of aabsent employees and urged employees and workers to adopt new work culture of discipline and public service with responsibility.
Following suit, Panchayat and Rural development minister Rockybul Hussain was seen on television channels conducting surprise checks to the rural development office. He was seen chiding erring employees and even suspending a few employees for their negligence of duty.
Meanwhile, 24 hours after Sarma conducted a surprise check in the state Education department headquarters, News Live channel went to monitor the functioning of the office of the department. Everyone seemed to be in office and on their toes.
A visitor to the office told the television channel, "I have been running around to get my job done for the past few weeks. Today, I got the feeling that it might be done in a day or two. All credit goes to the surprise visit of the minister."
On the other hand, a day after a tragic bus accident that claimed at least 29 lives of a marriage party in Hajo, in lower Assam, Transport Minister Chandan Brahma could be seen standing on the streets of Guwahati and stopping buses. He stopped surprised bus drivers and conductors and checked whether their vehicle was fit for plying. Brahma had appealed to vehicle owners to take their vehicles off the roads if they were not fit. The minister issued instructions to officials of his department to strictly implement the rule, particularly for public transport.
 "We have been stressing on road safety but some owners do not hesitate to violate rules. Unfit vehicles are the root cause of accidents. Whenever an accident occurs, the driver is blamed. But in most cases, it's because of technical glitches," Brahma said. 

Around 22 commercial vehicles, mainly city buses, were seized today in Guwahati in the presence of the Minister. These vehicles did not have fitness certificates. Throughout the State more than 200 commercial vehicles without fitness certificates were seized and cases have been registered against 500 vehicles for not having valid documents.
On friday, Pranati Phukan, minister for Handloom & textiles and sericulture was seen visiting the Directorate of Handloom at Guwahati and surprised the employees. She found that 40 percent of the employees were absent. She issued show cause notice and asked for a salary deduction for one day.
Hopefully, the other ministers will also pull up their socks and activate the departments which have fossilized over the years. And hopefully, the 24X7 television channels will continue to show us these ministers in action.
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