Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth is learnt to have asked senior secretaries to the union government to prepare a presentation for Prime Minister designate Narendra Modi, candidly describing “how things could have been different”, and “what if you are given a free hand?”
The Indian Express obtained independent confirmation from sources in several ministries about the cabinet secretary’s telephone call. Modi is expected to meet President Pranab Mukherjee at 2.30 pm on Tuesday to stake claim to form the government.
Senior bureaucrats said they considered the move as intended to fix responsibility on officers for delivery, while also expressing confidence in them. The cabinet secretary’s call could turn out to be one of the first indications of the style in which the new government will function.
The Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet secretariat had earlier compiled a presentation on ongoing projects and nature of work in each ministry, as is routinely done when a new government takes over.
However, over the weekend, secretaries of key infrastructure ministries were asked to prepare fresh “audio-video” and PowerPoint presentations, focusing especially on the roadblocks in the way of timely completion of projects. The presentations are also expected to describe cost escalations and solutions to improve the situation.
“We were told to put down candid reasons for the delay in execution of projects. Between the lines, I could sense that cabsec (cabinet secretary) was asking us to put on paper the real reasons why many flagship infrastructure programmes are crawling. I would say much of it is due to fatigue in decision making, and the fear of being prosecuted,” a senior secretary in an infrastructure ministry said.
Projects suffered under UPA 2 after bureaucrats were discouraged by the spectacle of top officials being targeted by investigations and criticism over professional decisions taken by them in the past.
Another secretary who has been asked to prepare a report, said, “I have been asked to write what difference it might make if, as secretary, I am given a free hand.” The cabinet secretary’s instruction, this officer said, “can only mean that the incoming Prime Minister wants results.
“He (Modi) is essentially asking us to address our concerns to him, and he would find the answers. But at the end of the day, we have to deliver,” the officer said.
As chief minister, Modi has had the reputation of functioning corporate style, deciding quickly and implementing effectively. An officer who has served in the Gujarat government said, “This is along expected lines. This is his way of inspiring the bureaucracy. They are made to feel relevant and given the confidence to take decisions.”