Originally Published 2015-09-03 10:17:59 Published on Sep 03, 2015
Flutter in Indian babudom 

"When the new Prime Minister decided to meet the entire central bureaucracy last year, he asked them to function as a cohesive whole. They in turn expressed fear of persecution and prosecution, given what had happened to top bureaucrats in the 2G spectrum and coal gate cases. Examples of Siddharth Behera, Shyamal Ghosh, H C Gupta, P C Parakh and others were given. The overarching sentiment expressed was that a moat needed to be built around the bureaucracy so that they weren't hounded years after demitting office. Assurances were given and in the coal ordinance ring fencing of the bureaucracy was mentioned very specifically. After years of policy paralysis given that post 2010 bureaucrats were paranoid of signing off on policy decisions, one thought that there would be movement and files would be cleared with greater alacrity.

Instead, we have a brand new phenomena which has got the bureaucracy's knickers in a twist. The Prime Minister's Office appears to have appropriated all authority in the new dispensation. With the pace of reformist initiatives struggling to come to terms with what the PM himself wants, is the PMO now functioning like a super Cabinet? Over the weekend I heard of serious friction between the minister and his secretary over what the way forward was in a sensitive ministry. In fact, the secretary in this specific case is reporting directly to the PMO and this has caused a huge rift between him and his minister. On Monday afternoon, there was another strange bit of news, home secretary L C Goyal who was ushered into his job after the huge scandal with his predecessor Anil Goswami going out in a cloud of controversy decided to take voluntary retirement, a euphemism for God alone knows what, and was replaced by Rajiv Mehrishi. Mehrishi incidentally was to retire today August 31 and has now got a two year extension by virtue of being appointed home secretary.

L C Goyal who took over as recently as February after a scandal enveloped Anil Goswami over his personal intervention to stall a CBI probe against former Congress minister Matang Sinh, has reportedly been nixed because of his rocky relationship with his own minister and the finance ministry. The handpicked Kerala cadre officer was also reportedly extremely difficult to deal with. A lair ka fakir officer who went into the technicalities of every decision. So hours before his retirement, Mehrishi got the prestigious but now controversial job. A former chief secretary of Rajasthan known for being someone with a reformist outlook, he now has to deal with India's internal security requirements, as also liaise with the finance ministry for funding etc. After innumerable bureaucratic reshuffles - some of them quite bizarre - the need for nimble footedness and accelerated decision making is still not forthcoming in India's main farme. This could also be a function of the clout that the PMO has in the Modi government where ministers are often by passed. Equally it could be because babus are failing to perform in an administration which has a doer mindset. Unfortunately, frequent changes are only crippling babudom and the pace of reform is even slower than anticipated.

One of the most absurd appointments was of Arvind Mayaram, blue eyed boy of the UPA and its finance minister P Chidambaram. The high profile finance and department of economic affairs secretary found himself marooned in the night of the long knife. His case was straight out of the theatre of the absurd. Only a day prior to being relieved as F & DEA secretary, Mayaram must have been shell shocked when he was transferred yet again. The Appointments Committee cancelled its previous order of Octobver 15, last year to pack the Rajasthan cadre IAS officer from Tourism where he didn't even join directly to the boondocks - ministry of minority affairs. He was to have replaced Parvez Dewan in the tourism ministry who was superannuating on October 31. Speculation abounded over this massive demotion for Mayaram who some had thought had a shot at the Cabinet Secretaryship as well since he was to retire only later in 2015.

Mayaram's quick and abrupt disposal was only marginally better than that of the equally high flying financial service secretary Rajiv Takru's hasty journey to oblivion. In June last year, Rajiv Takru found himself sitting in the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DONER), a major comedown from North Block. This was followed within a month by yet another transfer to the National Commission for Minorities. In his case the explanation was that his performance in Gujarat was questionable.

In mid July last year, the first of these big bang reshuffles was carried out, its onset necessitated by the fact that some central govt secretary level officers were super annuating. Then in late September, the Modi administration transferred close to 50 officers of additional and joint secretary level officers. Babus described the move as a midnight massacre, as many as 40 of those transferred were Indian Administrative Service officers while others belonged to Indian Revenue Service, Indian Postal Service, Indian Forest Service and Indian Civil Accounts Service, among others.

Continuity in the bureaucracy is not one of the virtues of this administration. The PM is man of action, he obviously wants results, but his regular purges have left the bureaucracy shaken and stirred. In January came the biggest shock with the sacking of foreign secretary Sujatha Singh and only days after that in yet another stunning churn, seven ministries including health, urban development and housing were touched. It was believed that some of them (secretaries) were replaced as they slipped on deadlines and seemed unable to deliver on their mandate.

The PM has met the entire central bureaucracy at least twice listening to their woes and suggestions very carefully. It was expected that the instrumentality of his growth and development agenda would be the central bureaucracy, the elite of Indian babudom. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy has been in strife, the target of 'friendly fire' as incomprehensible and repeated changes have emasculated it completely. Meanwhile news has just come in that GDP for the first quarter April-June has decelerated to 7 per cent. Monday's revolving door shuffle saw 38 changes including Goyal's who found himself incharge of Pragati Maidan as ITPO boss.

I am not surprised. "

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