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Sensitive files? PM to check all of them
A Correspondent in New Delhi |
August 30, 2004
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is setting higher standards within the administration.
In a trend-setting decision, the Prime Minister's Office has directed important ministries -- like Commerce, Petroleum, Telecommunications and Revenue -- to submit detailed views with more references and not mere summaries on any matter sent for his consideration.
The ministries have been asked to submit all the 'link files' along with the main submission. The prime minister wants to have a broader perspective -- the micro and the macro views -- on the subject under deliberation.
A senior official who has worked in important ministries affirms that the changes brought about by the prime minister are very visible. In that, Dr Singh is a total contrast to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. When it came to handling of files, Vajpayee was said to be averse to long notes and thick files. Huge files stopped at his advisor Brajesh Mishra's desk.
Dr Singh, however, is inviting more 'paper work.' These days, in his office seven joint secretaries can be seen working till 10 p.m.
The prime minister is pro-active on policy matters too. He has asked all his ministers to seek his office's advise before making any policy statements.
Last fortnight, he issued a curt letter to his ministerial team telling them to strictly follow the guidelines laid down for the selection and appointment of directors and executives of public sector undertakings.
Now, with his latest instruction of wanting to check the 'link files' too, he has sent a clear message that PMO will no longer be kept in the dark on any important issue.
Ministries, hitherto, submitted a short note or, if required, a special summary explaining the subject matter along with a few set of papers for reference. The slim file that was sent was considered sufficient enough to arrive at a decision.
In the world of bureaucrats, a file that contains numerous notations by officials, references, and forms is known as a 'link file.'
But the file which is used often by ministers and senior officials for the purpose of a debate is called the 'mother file.' The mother file is prepared on the basis of the notations made by officers and the facts in the link files. A compact summary, collated from both these files, is then readied and sent to the PMO for clearance.
However, it is not always that the summary gives a neutral, clear picture. Moreover, it is also couched in bureaucratic English.
The prime minister, who is very familiar with the 'tricks of bureaucratic world,' has sent out a strong message by asking for the link files. Sometimes, if they think it is not important, secretaries fail to point out the irregularities mentioned in the link files or any inconsistencies highlighted by previous officers in the summary note.
As Dr Manmohan Singh does not devote too much time to social functions and has not been travelling very often, he has been able to spare more time at the office than is expected of a prime minister.
Although the prime minister's idea to read more before taking any decision is prudent, some officers have raised objections to this move.
The joint secretaries in the PMO, who will now read the link files, will invariably be junior to the secretary of concerned department. And the seniors will certainly not like these 'juniors' helping the prime minister arrive at the final decision on matters decided by them. Second, even ministers might find their independence curtailed in sensitive matters.
The PMO's directive is to 'flag-mark' all the important facts of the matter when the files are being sent.
In another significant issue of the sarkari babus' grievances, the prime minister wanted Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi to intervene and redress the complaint.
The cabinet secretary has written to the Department of Personnel and Training to address the frustration of the officers. The Cabinet Secretary wrote that "their marginalisation for taking up a principled stand, they being non-empanelled for promotion despite merit and denial of promotion" is the reason behind their frustration.
The letter said the prime minister is of the view that "improvement of efficiency in the delivery of services by the government agencies depends critically on the morale of the officials working to provide these services."
The prime minister wants to create some system under which the government can interact with his officers so that they can vent their grievances.
"Officers often feel frustrated in the absence of an appropriate forum for venting these grievances which may be in the nature of being marginalised for taking a principled stand, not empanelled despite merit, having to forgo promotions and other such situations symptomatic of an unfriendly work environment," the cabinet secretary wrote.
"Such frustrations build up which gives the government the image of an insensitive employer, which we need to correct," the letter added.
Some National Democratic Alliance leaders may not agree, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is proving to be very 'sensitive and courteous' in matters of administration.