Mumbai: Ten days after the coronavirus strolled into Mantralaya, 10 people, including a principal secretary, have been found positive.
Two senior IAS officers with responsibilities related to the disaster management department have decided to go into home quarantine. Employees working here have now demanded complete closure of the state government headquarters.
On April 27, five persons, including an ambulance doctor, had been found positive. On Thursday afternoon, it was revealed that a senior IAS officer had been found corona-positive. He had played a key role in transport of labour. Nine contractual employees too tested positive. This came as a shock to the administration, which had been focused on Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's video-conference with the leaders of all political parties.
The 10 afflicted have been hospitalised by the BMC but both, the Mantralaya administration and the BMC, were not ready to share further details. The nine employees had been commuting to work daily. It is likely they may have come in contact with an infected person while travelling by bus or car. Now, the state government has embarked on contact tracing of all these 10 persons. One of the two senior officers who went into home quarantine, is of the rank of additional chief secretary.
This news has alarmed all IAS officers in the state, particularly those who operate from Mantralaya. “During the corona crisis, most of the files circulated to various desks originated from the disaster management cell or its parent department -- the relief and rehabilitation department. Many of these contract employees visited us with these files. It's quite possible that the files were contaminated with the virus or these people were carriers. These files went to various departments, desks and senior officials. This may result in a scenario where many employees, including IAS officers, may get affected,” said a senior official in Mantralaya.
Why is physical attendance necessary?
“When there is digital technology available, why is the physical presence of officers necessary? Why can't files be generated online and signed digitally? Mantralaya has already incorporated the digital signature system, so why are senior bureaucrats pressing for movement of files on paper?” asked another official.
“Since more than 90 per cent of Mantralaya empty, why cannot the Maharashtra government make boarding and lodging arrangements in Mantralaya for employees? As per government priority, health, medical education and the relief and rehabilitation department employees are essential during this emergency. They should be accommodated in or around Mantralaya. Since they or their drivers travel by public transport, the chances of their contracting corona are high,” opined an official in the health department.
Why is Mantralaya not being shut down?
As per the rule, if more than three patients are found at any location or colony, that area is declared a containment zone. It is sealed for 14 days with the entry and exit of people to or from this zone being banned. On April 27, when five patients were found in Mantralaya, the government did not follow its own guidelines. The next day, Mantralaya was still working, closing for sanitisation on April 29 and 30. Had it then been declared a containment zone, further infection could have been prevented.
“Public morale is affected when they see ministers or IAS officers being laid low by corona. We are demanding that Mantralaya be closed for some days and all meetings and processing of files be done online,” many officers told The Free Press Journal, on condition of anonymity.