While the UPA government’s oft-repeated commitment to promote meritocracy didn’t go beyond expressions of intent, the NDA regime has set out to achieve it by putting a premium on merit in bureaucratic appointments.
The recent appointment of Rajasthan cadre IAS officer Subhash Chandra Garg as executive director, World Bank, took the entire bureaucracy by surprise. They were expecting yet another senior civil servant in the PMO or some high profile bureaucrat to land up with this plum assignment as was the usual practice in the past.
During Manmohan Singh’s tenure, first Pulok Chatterji and then MN Prasad, high profile officials in the then PMO, had secured it.
Explaining the reasons for selecting Garg out of over 100 officers who were considered, sources said that the government did not want to send someone who was on the verge of retirement. “It was decided to send somebody younger who, after the World Bank stint, will come back to the government and contribute more. Garg also has the advantage of having a finance background,” said a source.
While effecting a reshuffle and appointments of over 45 IAS officers last week, an intensive background check, including their integrity, was carried out through different agencies, said sources. Apart from scrutinizing their ACRs and subject specialisation, “informal channels” were used to obtain feedback about them before their postings were finalized, said sources.
To send a clear signal that business as usual no longer works, some bureaucrats who were getting repeated extensions were relieved. For instance, while giving another extension of central deputation tenure by one month to Suresh Kumar, joint secretary in the ministry of home affairs, the DoPT directed “to relieve the officer after the proposed one month extension is over”.
“The government is laying emphasis on human resource because it is a critical factor when it comes to delivery,” said a top official adding that the PMO is always on the lookout for talent who would come up with out-of box ideas.
While the bureaucracy is feeling more empowered under Narendra Modi who regularly meets secretaries and his PMO keeps in touch with even joint secretaries, the PM sets the bar high for them. He had, for instance, once asked then DoT secretary: “(MF) Farooqui, if my train is late, what do I do even if I have an ipad (without wifi)? Inside the train also, how long will I look out of the window without any source of entertainment?”
Farooqui retired a few weeks later but the new appointees have to face many such questions.