Prime Minister Narendra Modi has forged a reputation as a driven man and time runs out for the country’s bureaucrats to conform to his standards on Saturday as the deadline for new biometric attendance system kicks in.
The electronic system will track whether government officials are showing up for work on time.
What’s more, not only will Big Brother watch 'babus', as India's officialdom is stereotyped, but the public can also keep track of them through a website — attendance.gov.in — that quietly went live at the end of September.
In New Delhi, nearly half of the babus were yet to adopt the new biometric attendance system, leading to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) setting October 25 as the deadline for bringing the entire government workforce under the punctuality regime.
The corporate sector took to this system long ago, now, government officials, who are saddled with a reputation of taking it easier than the workforce in the private sector, have to fall in line.
The dashboard of the Biometric Attendance System displays a dynamic, real-time chart of how many people are at work. It is also possible to click through and check when an individual checks in and logs out of the system.
A screenshot from the attendance.gov.in website.
"It all started with the prime minister giving the idea," said project coordinator Shefali Sushil Dash of India's National Informatics Centre, the agency for e-government initiatives.
The system is based on the Aadhaar (Foundation) biometric identity card system launched by the last government that now covers 680 million people, and refines a pilot project launched by techno-bureaucrat Ram Sewak Sharma when he was posted in Jharkhand.
Using their Aadhaar numbers, more than 50,000 government workers at 148 government bodies in Delhi have been enrolled in the system. The plan is to double that figure.
Staff can clock in using a fingerprint scan at the entrance of their offices. Top-ranking civil servants can do so, without queuing, with devices attached to their workstations.
Dash said there had been "no complaints" from those enrolled in the scheme that it was intrusive. "This system is meant to make people's life easier," she told Reuters.
Based on a straw poll of his sources, Suhaib Ilyasi, editor of Bureaucracy Today — a magazine for and about Indian bureaucrats — said the response was positive.
"People like it even though they have to be punctual," he said. "Officers are government servants. They should be serving the people. There is no sense of intrusion."
Keeping the noses of officials to the grindstone is bullish for India, a country where even the most basic bureaucratic task can prove daunting, according to one investor.
"Modi's view is if I get the little things right, if I get the civil servants to work, to clear files, then I'm 80% of the way there," said Avinash Vazirani, manager of Jupiter Asset Management's India fund.
"This is Big Brother stuff but very effective. It's not just the central government. The state governments are trying to emulate this."
The Prime Minister's Office will also take part in the scheme, said Dash, although it was not clear whether Modi would be enrolled.