Seeking systemic reforms, the Narendra Modi Government is putting the IAS and other top arms of the civil service under scrutiny like never before.
At a marathon interactive meeting with the Secretaries to the Government on April 2, the Prime Minister lent them a sympathetic ear and gave them a piece of his mind.
Come up with out-of-the-box solutions. Bring in policies to usher in big-ticket reforms and ensure their implementation. Feel free to point out shortcomings in policies and their execution. But don’t cite lack of resources for not coming up with big developmental ideas.
These are some of the messages that Secretaries of multiple ministries got following a four-hour meeting in which more than 85 senior bureaucrats, including the Cabinet Secretary and the National Security Advisor, were present.
“Stop thinking and working in isolation. According to an official present at the meeting, come up with suggestions even if these don’t pertain to your ministry,” PM Modi is reported to have said. This was his eighth meeting with the Government Secretaries since 2014.
Apart from these large meetings with the top bureaucracy, the Prime Minister has also held 17 meetings with groups of secretaries — panels tasked with preparing long-term goals and vision in entire sectors.
The Prime Minister emphasized that the entire Government must approach complex problems to tackle them. He spoke at length about ‘Vision 2047’—the Government’s roadmap for the period between the 75th and the 100th anniversary of Independence.
Last month, the prime minister formed a Group of Secretaries to prepare the vision document for various sectors to be pursued during this period called ‘Amrit Kaal’.
He wanted the Secretaries to meet other ministries, stakeholders — both inside and outside the government structure — and all those involved in key focus areas before the vision documents were prepared.
PM Modi also emphasized sharing the roadmap with not just states, but districts as well. They have a significant role in implementing the vision documents for harnessing India’s potential during the next 25 years.
During the meeting, the PM categorically told bureaucrats to come out of the mentality of managing shortages to the new challenge of managing surplus. He told them to give up the old story of citing “poverty” as an excuse for not taking up major development projects and asked them to adopt a bigger perspective.
The Prime Minister cited the teamwork shown by the Secretaries during the COVID-19 pandemic and asked each of them to act as Secretaries of the Government of India and not merely as Secretaries of their respective departments. Everyone should work as one team.
He also asked the Secretaries to give feedback and suggest loopholes in policies of the Government, including those which are not related to their respective ministries.
Sources said that more than two dozen secretaries expressed their views and shared their feedback with Prime Minister Modi, who heard them with an open mind.
Some of those present raised the issue of populist schemes announced in some economically unsustainable states and could take the economy down the same path as Sri Lanka.
Officials familiar with the development said the focus of the meeting, scheduled at the beginning of a new financial year, was on faster implementation of Government schemes and Budget promises, even as the PM is likely to seek fresh ideas for work in critical sectors.
The meeting assumed importance as at least 20 new Secretaries have been appointed in the past six months, and it was their first such interaction with Prime Minister Modi.