It’s been eight days since order went out from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office that government offices ensure “an improved work culture and work environment including hygiene and cleanliness of the work space”. One of the government’s most sensitive ministries, Home, alone, is now 94,000 files, 50 almirahs and many betel stains lighter.
A team of 40 has been racing against the two-week deadline sorting the files, as 300 more scour the corridors of North Block to give the stained, dusty and often cobweb-covered government offices a new look.
Home Secretary Anil Goswami has already made at least one inspection, in which he came up with several “shortcomings”. Apart from Home, the North Block houses offices of the Department of Personnel, Training and Public Grievances.
There are 23 divisions in Home, and it is up to its 20 data entry operators, hired on yearly contract, to go through each and every file, determine which still have utility after a quick consult with the department head concerned, and accordingly decide what to do with them.
The files which have to be preserved for a “lifetime” are being bound and kept in the record-room on the ground floor. Twenty casual labourers working with the data entry operators are helping dust the required files, and shred the unwanted ones.
While every ministry has its own record room, there is a central repository of such files belonging to all the ministries at Jamnagar House.
Explained a senior official part of the cleanliness drive: “A Category A file means it has to be preserved forever. B means 25 years, C 10 years and D 5 years. There are some required to be kept only a year. Once the sorting is done, an index is prepared by data operators, who key in relevant information into the central database. In the future, if any file is required, officials will know where exactly to look. A database is also being kept in the record room, both manually and computerised.”
The official admitted that such “weeding out” should be a normal process, but was hardly ever top priority. “So when we put our heads together, we found that some files were as old as 15 years. They served no purpose but were eating up space.”
The same was the story with the general cleaning of offices. Following Goswami’s inspection, the 300 members of the cleaning staff were lined up, asked to pick up a broom each and get to work.
“There were betel stains in corners of the wall. Scores of plastic tea cups and water bottles were disposed of,” said the official.
This at least was easy. “Since we had huge manpower, the cleaning was completed in an hour’s time,” he said.
The harder task was getting rid of that ubiquitous government office furniture: steel almirah. Many even lined up corridors due to lack of space in rooms. These are being get rid of gradually.
The small lawn in the middle of the North Block compound has been spruced up too, while its water fountain has started functioning again. The entrance to the building and the corridor leading to the Home Minister’s are now carpeted.
The official admitted though that some things though may still leave a spot on their record. “A large number of visitors and support staff come with other officers and ministers. We will be keeping a tab on such people who often litter corridors with cups and bottles.”