It may be the zeal to impress new bosses, it may be Narendra Modi’s energy percolating down, or it may be the pressure to perform. But irrespective of the motivation, there is perceptible change in the working culture of key ministries operating out of Raisina Hill and the Bhawans in central Delhi. Bureaucrats are stepping up their game, working rigorously, and putting in long hours in the sweltering heat.
It was not as if babus didn’t work earlier, but when HT spoke to bureaucrats across ministries, they admitted to certain changes.
Take the environment ministry at Paryavaran Bhawan. With instructions to senior officials to ensure their juniors report on time, and not stroll in when they wish, the junior staff has discovered the virtues of punctuality. Reporting to work, however, does not translate into leaving office at 6pm “Every file has to be cleared within a time-line. I have to sit in office late to finish the daily work,” a section-level officer in the ministry said.
Long and lazy lunches have given way to a quick bite, often on the desk itself.
There is a clear domino effect, because in the hierarchy-conscious bureaucracy, if a senior is working, it is bad form – and potentially bad for one’s annual confidential report – to leave. An under-secretary-level officer added that they cannot leave as senior officers sit in office till late evening.
“There is lot of pressure. My boss now wants information immediately,” he said. Things are no different in Shastri Bhawan where a large number of ministries including Information and Broadcasting are housed.
“I leave office at 11pm and return well before nine when the minister reaches office,” a senior I&B ministry official said. The same refrain is heard in the urban development ministry. Senior bureaucrats say that, after ages, a majority of officials are actually reporting to work at 9am sharp.
That UD minister M Venkaiah Naidu is present at 9am, taking rounds, and even calling meetings, also ensures punctuality. On one day last week, he welcomed a few officials to their chambers when they were a few minutes late, causing embarrassed looks all around.
“Because officers are reporting at 9am, the clerical and maintenance staff, who earlier never came before 11am, are coming early too.” said a senior UD ministry official. This small change has had an impact on performance. “Earlier, even if I cleared a file in the morning, I had to wait for the staff to come and dispatch it. Now, the file gets delivered as and when it gets cleared.”
Regular meetings are another feature of the new government. “This ensures bureaucrats come prepared. Earlier such meetings used to happen rarely, giving leeway to officials to work at their own pace,” said a senior bureaucrat in one of the infrastructure ministries.
Officials in the rural development ministry say the enquiries from PMO have increased considerably. “The PMO has been asking specific questions on each scheme under the ministry” an official told HT.
The inquisitiveness of the PMO, and their follow up to questions, has made babus at the ministry more alert. The PMO is also known to call sudden meetings with senior ministers and officials, who have to be on their toes throughout.
The question is if this is temporary, natural after a new regime has taken over, or if the transformation of work culture in government offices become a lasting feature.