Dilli Ka Babu: Forest fire in Karnataka

Columnist  | Dilip Cherian

Opinion, Oped

There are an estimated 5.2 million Central government employees currently working in India, excluding the defence personnel.

The Modi sarkar is quietly working towards trimming the bloated bureaucracy. (Photo: PTI)

The sudden ouster of Indian Forest Service officer (IFoS) Vinay Luthra as chairman of the Karnataka Ecotourism Development Board, just a year after his appointment, has caused much distress in the service. Moreover, he has been replaced by former chief secretary J. Alexander, who is an IAS officer.

Sources say that Mr Luthra’s unexpected exit has sparked off an IFoS versus IAS debate. Apparently, this is the latest in a series of “setbacks” for the forest service, which have, including the taking away of some of the powers from the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) through the post of Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW). Some forest babus blame “excessive political interference” in a department that is being bogged down by one or the other controversy, the previous one being the appointment of honorary wildlife warden postings that allegedly witnessed political nominations instead of merit-based appointments.

The issue has triggered a debate within IFoS circles with some saying that they were being overpowered through former or serving IAS and IPS officers.

Gujarat babus rule!
The elevation of Gujarat IPS officer Y.C. Modi as head of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has again highlighted that Gujarat cadre officers seem to rule the babu corridors. Mr Modi will join his colleagues Rakesh Asthana, who was made acting director of the CBI last year, and A.K. Patnaik, who is the CEO of the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID).

The cop will now be part of a select group of officials in Delhi who worked with Mr Modi when he was chief minister of Gujarat, and have received key posts in the Central government since 2014.

Sources say that Y.C. Modi’s appointment is also being watched with interest, as it is a key post when it comes to setting the narrative on crucial terror investigations. Former NIA chief Sharad Kumar received two extensions from the Modi government, and under his tenure several important investigations were conducted by the agency.

Prior to this, Gujarat-cadre IAS officer and former chief secretary of the state Achal Kumar Jyoti was appointed Chief Election Commissioner of India in July 2017. Other officers from Gujarat who made it big at the Centre include revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia, power secretary P.K. Pujari, commerce secretary Rita Teotia, corporate affairs secretary Tapan Rai and joint secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Arvind Kumar Sharma.

Modi government trimming the fat
The Modi sarkar is quietly working towards trimming the bloated bureaucracy. All those performance appraisals and weeding out of non-performing babus at the very top, now seems to be a planned strategy set to go deep down within the government. Sources say that the Centre is likely to show the door to about one million employees, while speculation is rife that the number could actually be higher. There are an estimated 5.2 million Central government employees currently working in India, excluding the defence personnel.

The Centre has been tightening performance appraisals for employees, weeding out non-performers, as the government sees its businesses slowing for public services, technology shifts towards digital and growing government businesses in digital.

Sources say that the government is scrutinising employees for performance in the same post for longer periods, identifying gaps to reskill and marking out those who are unable to upskill with newer technologies. Apparently, the government wants to skill babus in newer technologies such as cloud, digital and analytics, and will redeploy them in new projects.

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