May 26, 2017

Three years of Modi Sarkar: Bureaucrats now have hotline to Prime Minister


By Sidhartha & Dipak K. Dash, TNN | May 26, 2017, 10.57 AM IST

Junior officials too can send ideas to the PM through the mygov portal.

The NDA government appears to have made a dent in the working of the bureaucracy that seemed plagued by compartmentalisation, which turned ministries and departments into silos, stalling the smooth exchange of ideas. 

Under PM Modi's system of secretary-level panels, ideas that may have remained on paper don't just find traction but are even getting implemented. "If I can convince committee members, there's every chance the PM will give his go-ahead to implement a scheme," said a secretary . 

Junior officials too can send ideas to the PM through the mygov portal. "At times we hesitate, wondering if there'll be an adverse impact. But there've been cases when ideas submitted have received a positive response," said an officer. 

Secretaries make presentations directly to the PM to ensure that they have command over the subject, they have to go alone to meet Modi. In many cases, the PM communicates directly with officers instead of going through ministers. 

The Prime Minister's Office under Modi has become one of the most powerful in recent years, with some secretaries accused of spending more time there than in their respective ministries -raising concerns that the Cabinet secretary is being relegated to the background. 

Soon after taking charge, Modi met all secretaries and made it clear they figure prominently in his scheme of things. But a series of transfers had shaken up the bureaucracy . Initial appointments did not instil confidence, with officers entrusted with departments where they had little or no experience, but with time and knowledge, that concern has largely been addressed. 

The other change has been the deployment of officers from all services other than the IAS across ministries. When it came to the post of Central Vigilance Commissioner -monopolised by retired IAS officers -thegovernment opted for K V Chowdary, a former income tax chief. 

"The difference is we do what we're asked to. In Manmohan Singh's time, we'd ask the minister if we had to do what the PMO had asked us," said a secretary. 

When occasion demands, the PM shows bureaucrats he cannot be taken for a ride. At a video-conference with senior officials, Modi showed a picture of the little progress made on the construction of a bridge on the Ganga in Bihar to counter officials' claims. 

Another time, he ticked off officials from Sikkim for tardy progress in the building of an airport. Non-performers invite the PM's ire. In the past year, 129 officers have been shown the door. 

Areas where Modi's administration needs to do more include the railway bureaucracy. Despite repeated promises to revamp the state transporter, the Railway Board continues to operate as before. There is also the complaint of an administration's favourite being appointed to key jobs. "That's any government's prerogative. Disruption is good, but too much disruption does not instil confidence in your people who deliver," said a bureaucrat. 

But the PM is clear that he needs bureaucrats he can trust -both in terms of integrity and performance -to deliver on his government's agenda

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