Despite opposition from Cong-NCP ministers, Uddhav keeps Ajoy Mehta as Principal Adviser

The Maharashtra government on Wednesday appointed additional chief secretary Sanjay Kumar as the next chief secretary. Kumar, who belongs to the 1984 IAS batch, will succeed incumbent and batchmate Ajoy Mehta, who retires on June 30. Kumar will take over on the same day and his tenure will be until February 2021.

Further, Mehta, who had received two extensions in all (September 2019 to March 2020 and March to June 2020), has been appointed Principal Adviser to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. He will be tasked with advising the CM on the restoration of economic and administrative systems post-Covid-19.

Mehta’s appointment is almost similar to that of former Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha, who after three extensions, took over as the Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Free Press Journal broke the story recently. Incidentally, the government release is silent on the duration of Mehta’s appointment.

Both Mehta and Kumar abstained from comment.

With Kumar’s appointment, the CM has prioritised seniority. Apart from Kumar, additional chief secretary (general administration) Sitaram Kunte and additional chief secretary Praveen Pardeshi (urban development), from the 1985 IAS batch, had also been frontrunners for the post of chief secretary. Both Kunte and Pardeshi retire in December 2021.

A section of bureaucrats feared there would be two power centres in Mantralaya. Even though as chief secretary, Kumar will chair nearly 300 committees with a statutory role, the bureaucracy will find itself in a Catch-22 situation, having to go by Mehta’s decision, in his capacity as the Principal Adviser to the CM.

It must be mentioned here that the NCP and Congress ministers had complained to Thackeray against Mehta’s style of functioning. They had also strongly opposed another extension for Mehta after June 30. Even though Thackeray has not extended Mehta’s term, he has used his power of veto to appoint him Principal Adviser.

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