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Work without fear, I’ll protect you, PM Modi tells senior bureaucrats

NEW DELHI: PM Narendra Modi on Wednesday assured the bureaucracy of protection against malicious prosecution for bona fide decisions, saying secretaries to the government can approach him or mail him directly with inputs and ideas on any issue for deciding matters quickly.

At his first direct interaction with some 72 secretaries who head the bureaucracy in various ministries on Wednesday, the message from Modi was clear: Top officers must take their leadership role seriously and be decisive to make things happen quickly and improve governance.

This is the first time in eight years that a PM has undertaken such an exercise and indicates Modi's aim of establishing a direct connect with the bureaucracy.

The message was also directed at Modi's ministers: that they could not treat their portfolios as their personal fiefs and the bureaucrats as their vassals. By pepping up the bureaucrats to approach him directly, the PM has sought to open a direct line with the bureaucratic leadership: perhaps a significant step towards the evolution of 'presidential premiership'.

The PM's exhortation came after some secretaries said the erosion of the role of PMO and Cabinet committee on appointments had rendered bureaucrats vulnerable to ministerial whims, and had narrowed the room for professional inputs.

(The PM interacts with secretaries of the central government before their meeting on Wednesday)

Sources said the PM's primer, delivered in a friendly note, made the secretaries open up. Some 25 secretaries spoke. Fear of prosecution for doing their job emerged as the main bugbear and the CBI the virtual elephant in the room.

Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act was particularly identified as one of the main stumbling blocks. This section broadly makes a person liable for prosecution if a decision taken by him or her benefits any party. It was pointed out that nearly all decisions benefit some section or the other.

(Narendra Modi holding meeting with the secretaries of the central government on Wednesday)

This section is like a Damocles' sword that hangs over bureaucrats' heads even long after retirement, which made officials wary of taking decisions in the wake of telecom spectrum and Coalgate scams. This brought governance to a standstill during the fag end of the UPA-2 government.

Modi set an informal tone for the meeting, starting with a free seating plan around a square table running along the hall. He then put the top bureaucrats at ease by walking up to each official to shake hands. The fact that he remembered the names of a number of secretaries helped break the ice further.

'10-year fatigue'

In his 20-minute primer, Modi told the secretaries that he would protect them against negative repercussions of honest decisions. "You don't have to fear (while doing your job) ... I am available (to protect you)," sources quoted the PM as saying.

Pointing out that he was a "team player", Modi asked the secretaries to build their teams and lead from the front by focussing on issues of governance. Referring to demoralization in the bureaucracy, sources said, the PM unequivocally told the officials that their "10-year fatigue will end ... now you will enjoy working ... you all are talented people".

Sources said Modi also quoted former home secretary PC Sethi that "politicians should learn to say no, while bureaucrats should learn to say yes" to drive home the point that they must take decisions without fear or favour. "Work for the people, not for the PM," sources quoted the PM as saying.

Another message was to simplify procedures and cut paperwork by weeding out "outdated and archaic rules, which, instead of serving the process of governance, are leading to unnecessary confusion". The PM suggested the secretaries make a beginning by cleaning up offices to "improve the workplace, which would automatically improve work culture".

Source : http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/

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