During a video conference that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had with some state chief secretaries last week, the chief secretary of Bihar claimed that the pending work on a bridge on the river Ganga was nearly complete. Only to be stumped by the PM, who uploaded pictures that showed the bridge was still a long way from being ready.
The meeting, a first-of-its-kind video interaction in the Pragati (Proactive Governance and Timely Implementation) initiative, was attended by the chief secretaries of Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana and Delhi, and the secretaries of central government departments including Revenue, Industry, Petroleum and Environment.
Several phone calls made to the Bihar chief secretary’s office, and a fax sent to him seeking his version, remained unanswered.
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The meeting saw the senior officials speak to the PM by turn to update him on the work being done in their states. Modi lauded their efforts to improve delivery, especially of infrastructure projects, top official sources told The Indian Express.
He is reported to have heaped praise on a senior official from Jharkhand after the official gave suggestions on expediting environmental clearances.
Officials said the PM used the Pragati platform to both praise the efforts officials were making, and to make it clear that they would be kept on their toes and their performance would be monitored closely. These meetings — to be held on the fourth Wednesday of every month at 3.30 pm — will take up issues pertaining to states and the central department in order to ensure inter-departmental dialogue.
Sources said the PM was mostly a patient listener in the first meeting, interjecting to make suggestions and get the ball rolling on stalled issues.
One union secretary was asked about the Income-Tax refund situation; another, from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) was asked about his department’s preparedness in fielding questions that would likely be asked by a World Bank team that is scheduled to visit later this year.
The DIPP is tasked with facilitating the ease of doing business in the country. India has been ranked 142nd in the Doing Business report prepared by the Bank this year.
The sources said the PM asked DIPP secretary Amitabh Kant to focus on Delhi and Mumbai, the two cities that are used by the Bank in its survey.
It is learnt that Kant appeared on the screen after a delay caused by a technical glitch, which led Modi to quip in a lighter vein that the department that handles the ease of doing business was, ironically, the one that was falling back.
Text messages sent to Kant seeking a comment got no response.
The sources said the DIPP has already told its officials to closely monitor the work in Delhi and Mumbai.
The World Bank ranks countries every year on 10 parameters: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts, and resolving insolvency.
As per the Doing Business report of 2015, it takes a total of 67 days for an electricity connection to come through in Mumbai, and involves seven procedures. A senior DIPP official said that the city has already reduced the number of days from 67 to 21, and cut the number of procedures to three.