The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has been on overdrive ever since Narendra Modi moved into South Block in May. Within a few months of taking office, he held several meetings with department secretaries, making clear he wanted teamwork and quick decisions.
The PMO pushed the secretaries to spell out their targets and then rigorously followed up with them. The message was clear: they had targets to achieve. Just pushing files wasn’t going to be enough.
However, the changes in the upper echelons of the civil service were not affecting junior bureaucrats, who felt that unless a file on the PMO involved them, they could take it easy.
In between, ministers made surprise visits to check attendance at offices. But that too had a limited impact as officers knew a minister could not always come visiting to take the roll call.
That was when the PMO decided to use technology, ordering departments to introduce Aadhaar-enabled biometric attendance systems and put up the data on a website. It turned out just 20%-25% of government employees reported on time for work.
“Once the new system stabilises, employees will have to be punctual, or exhaust their leaves and then face salary cuts,” a senior official said.
AN Tiwari, former secretary of the department of personnel & training (DoPT), said this move alone would significantly raise the government’s productivity.
“This is a big step towards changing the work culture in the government,” he said, adding it was unfortunate that past governments hardly paid any attention to punctuality. However, he said Modi will have to raise the bar on transparency if he really wanted to bridge the administrative deficit.
The PM ended the practice of civil servants lobbying with ministers for a favourable posting when he included only home minister Rajnath Singh to the appointments committee of the cabinet (ACC). A truncated ACC meant ministers could no longer pick officers of their choice, who were now selected on merit and domain knowledge.
But, civil servants and ministers were expected to work as a team. Not doing so could have consequences, as Minister of State Gen (retd) VK Singh and IAS officer Rajiv Takru found out.
Singh and Takru had serious differences while they were at the ministry of development of the northeast region. Takru was the first to be moved out of the department and Singh too lost this portfolio in the reshuffle earlier this month.
“The PM meant it when he asked everyone in the government to work as a team. If you fight, there aren’t going to be any winners,” an official said.