When he met bureaucrats for a rare, direct interaction, tech-savvy Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked them to shake off outdated practices, telling them how he ran his successful election campaign efficiently from a single device — his iPad.
Modi suggested quickening the pace of a sluggish bureaucracy by harnessing information technology in a country that produces the largest number of software engineers globally. The bureaucracy — often described as India’s “steel frame”— is buckling up. For instance, information and broadcasting secretary Bimal Julka is looking at funds for similar hand-held devices for his team.
India’s elite bureaucracy is a hub of merit, attracting the brightest students who have to take one of the world’s toughest competitive exams. Yet, laden with
archaic rules, it is blamed for poor execution. Tardy official clearances have held up investments worth billions of dollars, considerably slowing down India’s economy.
On Friday, Julka held a meeting to follow up on the new PM’s tips, asking his team to begin shifting a bulk of the officialdom online. “There are clear categories of files which are allowed to be processed online,” Julka said.
Some bureaucrats HT talked to said they were energised by Modi’s approach to governance. For instance, Modi sought to know why Tamil Nadu grew only one type of crop now when an 1830 gazetteer recorded a wide variety of food commodities there. Highlighting the need for practical decision making, Modi also said that, in Gujarat’s Dangs district, the British had built forest guesthouses every 20 km, because that is the distance an elephant can travel in a day.
Modi’s model holds promise of a shake-up. The urban affairs ministry has issued a circular, asking staff to be punctual, clear files and to trash those that have lost relevance. It has issued a 24-point agenda to follow through.