As the government deals with a surge in Covid cases, the pandemic hasn’t left its corridors untouched. At least a hundred central government employees have tested positive so far, with many more under self-quarantine/isolation.
Officials who have tested positive for Covid include a senior officer of the Income Tax Settlement Commission, two secretaries, a secretary-rank officer, an additional secretary-rank officer, two joint secretaries and some directors, deputy secretaries, under-secretaries and section officers. A large number of those who tested positive include junior employees such as Multi-Tasking Staff, at least two data entry operators and a driver. An additional private secretary of a Union minister has also tested positive for the virus.
Besides, another Secretary is under isolation while another of his counterparts returned to office on Monday after two weeks of isolation. At least three joint secretaries and an additional secretary are in home quarantine after members of their staff or family tested positive.
Almost every building housing key ministries — Krishi Bhawan, Shram Shakti Bhawan, Shastri Bhawan, Nirman Bhawan, Rail Bhawan and North and South Blocks — has reported Covid cases, with some even reporting deaths. In the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MHUA), for instance, there have been six cases and two deaths so far. Once a case is reported, the office is closed for 48 hours and sanitised.
Yet, as a senior MoHUA officer said, work goes on. “Most of the senior officers have been coming to office,” the officer said.
The head of a division in one of the ministries said, “I have asked my multi-tasking staff not to come to office, that their salary will be sent home.” Another officer said, “To avoid any kind of risk, now I make my tea and take files to my seniors myself.”
A senior DoPT official, however, said the strain is showing. “While we are disposing of all urgent matters (court cases, RTI requests, public grievances, VIP references, etc.), only about 60 per cent of routine matters get cleared because of staff shortage.”
Among those who have been working from home is a Union minister, after an additional secretary rank officer in the ministry tested positive.
Sources said a Secretary of a ministry has had to adopt the work from home strategy thrice, each time after one or more of the staff tested positive. The Secretary continues to work from home.
Among the offices most affected is the Ministry of Labour at Shram Shakti Bhawan on Rafi Marg, where 41 employees have tested Covid positive. The building holds four departments — Jal Shakti, Department of Science and Technology, Power, and Labour.
Said a senior officer in the Labour ministry, “Most of the staff are working from home. Among the few who have been turning up for work are Minister Santosh Gangwar and Secretary Heeralal Samaria. After two of his typists tested positive, the minister had to get two typists from his home town Bareilly for routine office work.”
As cases go up, there have been complaints of the lack of a support system within the government set-up.
While every department has an Administration wing that usually handles problems of the staff, a senior official said the government should have done better. “In a crisis situation such as this one, the government should have appointed a nodal officer at the DoPT to compile positive cases among central government staff. Also, there should have been some centralised mechanism to take care of those who end up testing positive.”
An Under Secretary working with a North Block ministry, who tested positive along with her husband, recently wrote about her harrowing experience of finding a hospital bed. The message, which was widely circulated on WhatsApp groups of Central Secretariat Service officials, read, “I realised that no matter how well connected you are, if you do not know the highest authority personally, you are doomed… We the middle class, with money, with everything are so helpless, think of those who have nothing! No social security, no money, no connections and no back up… how they must be enduring this kind of situation.”
The Indian Express tried to reach out to the official, but got no response.
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