No round of golf in the afternoon, no reaching office after 9 am, no files staying on the desk for more than 2 days – life has got tough for New Delhi bureaucrats after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in May.
Modi has jolted India’s bureaucrats into action to implement his pledge of 'Minimum Government, Maximum Governance'. With investment projects worth $230 billion awaiting land and environment permits, the new administration has sought to expedite decision-making.
One of Modi’s first steps was to issue 10 administrative commandments. He called for offices to be "cleared and spruced up"; each department should scrap 10 archaic rules; and forms should be no longer than one page.
At a meeting with secretaries of over 75 ministries, the Prime Minister told them they could email him directly with new ideas and plans to streamline the working of their departments.
India’s bureaucracy has been ranked the worst among 12 Asian countries for more than a decade by Political & Economic Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong. This is despite hiring its top cadre through a competitive annual examination considered one of the toughest in the world. A mere 0.3 per cent of the around 300,000 candidates get to join the ranks of the Civil Services each year.
Yet civil servants take too long to make decisions and previous governments have been reluctant to make any changes, the consultancy said in its report last year.
That is already changing. According to The Times of India (TOI), employees at a defence ministry office were recently asked to sign up to a notice pledging that they would be in office by 9am or face disciplinary action. At the housing ministry, employees have to report to their superior if they are late by more than 15 minutes.
"We have been told files can't wait on a table for more than two days, and an explanation will be sought if a file isn't cleared for a week," an unnamed government official told TOI.
According to Reuters, a readers' poll in Bureaucracy Today, a professional journal, more than 70 per cent of respondents backed Modi's shakeup of the bureaucracy.
His government administration has also frowned on bureaucrats playing golf. The prestigious Delhi Golf Club has around 200 senior bureaucrats as members. Many would play a round of golf in the morning and sometimes even in the afternoon on a weekday. The government has asked for a list of officials who play golf regularly, thereby sending out a clear message: work, don’t play golf.
The Delhi Golf Club has reportedly been informed that the number of bureaucrat annual memberships – costing taxpayers 300,000 rupees ($5,000) each – would now be halved to 100, according to Bloomberg.
Bureaucrats are now even showing up for work on weekends, with many reportedly nervous that Modi may stop by unannounced. The Economic Times reported that the Prime Minister occasionally calls ministers on their landlines to check if they are at their desks.
It seems bureaucrats are not the only ones who have to be on their toes in this administration.