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PM Modi tightens screws, gives babudom a new rush hour

Author: TNN
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 2, 2014
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/PM-Modi-tightens-screws-gives-babudom-a-new-rush-hour/articleshow/41482792.cms

Some months ago, the secretary of an economic ministry was grumbling about his team turning up late for a 10am meeting. These days, they're in their seats before the clock strikes nine. The secretary, who was usually out of his office by 6pm even with his minister around, is now at his desk till 9pm. "The rush hour has changed," a government employee says.

 But another secretary reckons that an early-morning start hasn't resulted in increased productivity. He says that the first few hours of a workday are spent getting a fix on media leaks. By noon he's exhausted and goes for lunch.

 It isn't just the rush hour that has changed, but the attitude to work, ever since Narendra Modi met all secretaries in a first-ofits-kind initiative that came within a fortnight of taking charge. Presentations made to him apparently helped him identify better-performing secretaries, some of whom were rewarded with key postings.

With regular instructions from cabinet secretary Ajit Seth and Modi's principal secretary Nripendra Misra — ranging from cleaner offices to a new foreign travel policy — the new government has sought to change the way business is done in secretariats. The clout ministers enjoyed in the UPA government is gone.

 Regular interactions with the PMO and the cabinet secretariat have meant that babus are feeling more empowered. Ministers no longer have a say in the appointment process. The buzz is that joint secretaries and junior officers are picked directly in consultation with secretaries. The new process is such that gossip websites that predicted appointments weeks in advance have run dry.

 Direct access has come at a cost. Secretaries now must have complete command over issues, with details on their fingertips, for they're often called to the PMO at short notice.

 "Sometimes it works as the entire department delivers at great pace but there's also fear that one can't do a thorough job within hours or in a day or two," said a senior official. Issues are being decided quickly and follow-up is regular at the PMO and cabinet secretariat.

 Although it's early days, there've been instances where minister and secretary haven't been on the same page. In one instance, a secretary wrote to the PM pointing out flaws in a model his minister proposed. Another secretary is said to have made a presentation to the PM.

One grouse officers have is a clampdown on foreign visits. If a secretary, joint secretary and a director went for a trip earlier, chances are that now it'll be just one or at best two who finally get clearance.
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