In a first, PM Narendra Modi held meetings directly with joint and additional secretaries across departments.
Days before the Cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a series of meetings with additional secretaries and joint secretaries of all departments, in a first-of-its-kind exercise for a head of the government in recent memory, seeking their inputs on ways to improve governance.
The Prime Minister sought suggestions and, at times, asked why a particular proposal had not been implemented yet if indeed it was worth trying, some of these officers who attended the meetings told FE. Secretaries, the senior-most bureaucrats of each department, were not part of these meetings.
Many officers gave their inputs on a wide range of issues – from improving the efficiency of the system to the goods and services tax (GST) to boost innovation and jobs. For instance, one bureaucrat suggested to Modi that the assessment of government officials be strictly based on performance and shouldn’t be “process-driven”, as it’s now. Another officer suggested the government should reduce the GST rate on certain solar devices to zero from 5% to encourage solar power generation in the country. Another suggestion was that departments be given liberty to use at least 1% of their total allocation to boost innovation the way they deem fit.
While the Prime Minister’s meetings with secretaries are relatively normal in this regime (after becoming the PM, Modi had huddled with secretaries), it was for the first time that he directly sought suggestions from these officers who were lower in rank than secretaries, but were instrumental in policy making. They often conceive and draft important policy documents for approval by the designated authority and are the backbone of policy making in any government.
These officers were asked to gather in batches in accordance with their cadre or domicile profiles for interaction with the Prime Minister. The first of the meetings was held on August 23 and the last on September 1.
The meetings came at a crucial time when the government is struggling to spur economic growth and create employment opportunities for millions entering the job market every year. Banks, especially the public-sector ones, are saddled with stressed assets; many companies are leveraged to the hilt and fresh private investments have dried up.
The latest data revealed pre-GST disruptions and the lagged effect of demonetisation had pulled down the GDP growth in Q1 to a three-year low of 5.7%. With less than two years remaining for the next general elections, it seems the government is scrambling all the machinery at its disposal to live up to huge expectations it had generated among the masses with its promise of ‘acche din’ during the last Lok Sabha polls.