Bureaucracy gears up to receive new bosses

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Readies policy options in sync with BJP promises

Bureaucracy gears up to receive new bosses
Top echelons of the bureaucracy are getting ready to receive a non-Congress government at the Centre after counting of votes on May 16 at the end of the nine-phase Lok Sabha polls. So far, opinion polls have projected a win for the Narendra Modi-led BJP.

As part of this exercise, many ministries have requisitioned copies of the BJP manifesto and begun examining its poll promises. They are also assessing the problems that a new government could face.

After cabinet secretary Ajith Kumar Seth chaired meetings of top bureaucrats in the government, various ministries have begun an exercise on readying policy options in sync with BJP’s promises, if at all Narendra Modi assumes charge as prime minister.

Home secretary Anil Goswami was learnt to have asked his officials to explore options to work around the BJP promise of giving more teeth to the national investigative agency (NIA) and national security council (NSC) vis-à-vis retaining powers of nodal ministry.

Similarly, officials at the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) headed by secretary Amitabh Kant are said to be busy finding a way out to dilute the policy on FDI in retail sector if the BJP finally makes it to the South Block.

While the UPA government allowed FDI in single brand and multi-brand retail, the BJP has committed to rescind this policy. In its manifesto, the party said FDI in retail sector would be shelved to protect its own constituency of retail traders, mom-&-pop stores as well as small businesses. Already, the party government in Rajasthan, headed by chief minister Vasundara Raje Scindia, has consigned this policy to the dustbin.

“Many Congress-ruled states like Kerala are opposed to this policy. This would be conveniently dovetailed to shelve FDI in retail if a Narendra Modi-led BJP takes charge,” said an industry ministry official.

Finance secretary Arvind Mayaram and his officials have been working on a new set of tax proposals for the new government, which will have to present the Union budget in July.

In the interim budget, outgoing finance minister P Chidambaram had taken Parliament approval for spending in the first four months through a vote on account. At one of his meetings, Mayaram apparently briefed the cabinet secretary on possible measures that the new government might take to revive the economy.

Mayaram’s team has taken four guiding principles from the BJP manifesto to work on the tax proposals. They include providing a ‘non-adversarial and conducive taxation’ regime, rationalising and simplifying taxes and bringing all states on board to operationalise GST. A special package of fiscal incentives is being worked out to push R&D across sectors in tune with the BJP promise of “largescale indigenisation”.

Several secretaries — especially in economic ministries like railways, civil aviation, roads, transport, ports, roads and urban development — have apparently reported intense pressure from their respective ministers for ‘clearing large deals’ before the new dispensation takes charge.

At the railway ministry, several officials have gone on leave till May 16, citing health issues. Even deals worth Rs 50–100 crore were sought to be cleared through ‘limited tenders’ within three to four days as there was a last-minute rush to clear piled-up files by the officials at the railway board, nodal ministry and by ministers who have just returned from a long election campaign. “At least four joint secretary-level officers have gone on leave reporting sick to ward off pressure from the present political leadership to clear commercial tenders. Files were even sent home to these officials for clearance,” divulged a top official.

Several officials have returned files without taking any call before a new government assumes charge in the third week of May. Meanwhile, an ugly situation has arisen apparently after Pulok Chatterjee, principal secretary to the prime minister, reportedly expressed his reluctance to receive a non-Congress prime minister at the South Block. Chatterjee is considered close to the Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka troika. Officials said Chatterjee would prefer to remain attached to Congress president as her ‘Man Friday’ when his current boss, Manmohan Singh, moves out of South Block. Singh will shift to 3, Motilal Nehru Marg from the PM’s official residence at 7, Race Course Road after demitting office.

Cabinet secy Ajith Kumar Seth will have to look for another officer in case Chatterjee does not receive the new prime minister, particularly if he is from a non-Congress party. The situation may turn tricky as R Ramanujam, secretary in the PMO and second-in-command, may also not be available to receive the new prime minister as he’s in reckoning for vice-chairmanship at the National Disaster Management Authority.

Officials at the cabinet secretariat and PMO are miffed at Pulok Chatterji’s reluctance. They cited past instance where Brajesh Misra, the then principal secretary to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, received Manmohan Singh at South Block before calling it a day after the UPA was elected to power in 2004.


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