For the residents of Raigunj in North Dinajpur, it was not unusual to see District Magistrate Arvind Kumar Meena walk the 250-meter distance from his residence to office on Wednesday. However, it came as a surprise when many of Meena’s colleagues too were seen walking to work instead of using government vehicles.
In a “first-of-its-kind initiative”, the North Dinajpur district administration has decided to observe one day each week as “no vehicles day” as part of an austerity drive. The move comes after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently issued directives calling for cost-cutting.
“We are inspired by the chief minister and her initiatives. Most of the offices and quarters of district officials are within a 2-km radius in Raigunj. So, we decided to shun our government vehicles one day every week so that fuel expenses are reduced. Also, it is good for health and reduces pollution, however small it is. My residence and my office are within walking distance and there is no need for a vehicle. But I must appreciate my colleagues who do not stay that close by,” Meena told The Indian Express.
“This decision is entirely voluntary on our part and we have not been given any directive by the state government to do so. We are doing our bit in the small way we can. There are around 25 vehicles in the DM office, which will stay in their garages for one day every week,” he added.
Raiganj MLA Mohit Sengupta welcomed the move and urged top state government officials to take such initiatives for reduction of government expenses.
Meena was among those present at a state secretariat meeting called by Mamata on July 5 to discuss cost-cutting. The North Dinajpur DM then returned and informally discussed his ideas before holding a formal meeting with his colleagues. His office has also suggested the idea to officials of various other government departments in the district.
“It depends on the distance between the residence of SDO or BDO or officers and their offices. But one can try,” said the DM.
Apart from the ‘no vehicles day’ initiative, the North Dinajpur district officials have also been asked not to use office vehicles for personal purposes and to conduct meetings through video conferencing as much as possible. The district administration is also trying to cut down on food during meetings, providing small tiffins or just tea and biscuits.
While the first ‘no vehicle day’ was observed by the district officials on Wednesday, Meena said a fixed day in the week has not yet been decided. The amount expected to be saved by the move is yet to be assessed.
Recently, the chief minister had set up a committee under Chief Secretary Malay De to look into ways of cost-cutting. A set of do’s and don’ts have also been issued to officers. The measures range from banning flower bouquets and mementos (barring dignitaries from outside Bengal), meetings at private hotels, frequent installations of AC machines, beautification of offices and state government guest houses, curbs on tours, encouraging carpooling and so on.
As a part of a manpower utilisation policy, the government has sorted departments into three categories: those with excess manpower, those with less manpower and perfectly populated departments.