Branding the babu

July 30, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Posted in Bureaucracy, Governance and Sarkar | Leave a comment

logo_newWhat prompted the government to disallow any officer who had worked with a Central minister at any point over the last 10 years to join the personal staff of a new NDA minister?

Narendra Modi’s style of functioning as prime minister has evoked mixed responses. There is praise for and euphoria over several announcements — downsizing the council of ministers, setting targets for infrastructure development, rationalising departmental responsibilities and demanding that ministers find bilateral solutions to departmental entanglements, for instance. But there is also unease over some developments. The first is the fear of excessive centralism, which stems from the belief that centralisation kills democratic decision-making.

Branding the babu

What is seldom understood is that all governments operate through the bureaucracy, which is an amalgam of individuals who constantly require policy-level direction, leadership and evaluation of outcomes. At one time, ministers and secretaries provided that direction. But as disproportionate influence began to be exercised by powerful political associates, accountability became increasingly diffused. Many departments faced major obstacles due to an absence of leadership. With the growing complexity of government, a clear message from the top was needed to remove logjams but, over the last few years, the top political executive simply did not intervene. The bureaucracy was often led by secretaries who always had one eye on post-retirement sinecures or a better posting. Either way, ministers were never held answerable for taking a one-sided view, even when this was publicised through leaks and interviews. Secretaries were generally loath to spoil their copy-books, and discouraged enthusiasm and originality lest it rock the boat. The result was inertia.

Perhaps for the very first time in decades, Prime Minister Modi’s interaction with the bureaucracy and the instructions he has given have signalled the need for transformation. No longer would proximity to the minister and other power centres provide insurance for the future. Status-quoist secretaries can no longer sit on the fence looking busy. They will have to display and encourage initiative because their own future will henceforth be decided by entirely new yardsticks. By pinning down the secretaries, Modi has extracted a commitment on the main concerns they have highlighted themselves. Of even greater significance is the fact that reaching political consensus is once again the minister’s responsibility — the alibis of groups of ministers and empowered committees having been ripped apart.

While the over-centralism concern can be met thus, not all reforms are easy to explain. For instance, what prompted the government to disallow any officer who had worked with a Central minister at any point over the last 10 years to join the personal staff of a new NDA minister? Since the 10-year period coincides with the UPA’s tenure, the purport of the order has left no doubt in most minds. Although it only dittoed an old department of personnel and training order about the duration of postings with ministers, its reiteration, covering the precise period of UPA rule, has unwittingly made the loyalties of officers who worked directly for the previous regime suspect. The erstwhile personal staff have come to be seen as “Congressis” or “UPA-wallahs”. Concomitantly, the order has automatically converted the new incumbents in the ministerial offices into “BJP” or “NDA-wallahs”. This strikes at the root of the civil service rules, which draw their strength from the Constitution and eschew any politicisation of the service, espousing the need for a politically neutral bureaucracy. So instead of restoring and fortifying that much-needed objective, the 10-year embargo has created an artificial division within the civil service by branding some officers with a particular political dispensation. If officers deliberately choose to become politically aligned as a result of this, it would be an unhappy development.

Related to this is the question of equity: can a bureaucrat who has had a relatively short stint in the personal office of a minister, often after having been hand-picked from within the ministry to assist the minister, be equated with a bureaucrat who has tracked a minister from one ministry to another, advancing in influence with each new reshuffle? Everyone inside the bureaucracy knows who was up to what and the modus operandi employed. Painting both kinds of officers with one brush has been unfair to some. In the ultimate analysis, personal staff officers hardly contribute to making big policy or change the way government works. Upright former members of a minister’s personal office should not be discriminated against now when their names come up for Central deputation or key postings.

Just as the PM has constrained the ministers’ choice of personal staff, he must also disallow them from handpicking secretaries or even joint secretaries and additional secretaries — something that had become a regular phenomenon ever since coalition dharma ruined the bureaucracy. The centralisation of establishment systems would achieve what umpteen commissions and committees have been urging for decades but never succeeded in achieving. Simply put, political interference in the management of the senior bureaucracy still needs to be eliminated. How far the cabinet secretary is able to withstand individual pressure from ministers remains to be seen. Equally, how the PM exercises a check on civil servants who manipulate postings remains a question.

A word of caution is also needed, lest miracles are expected from the Modi dispensation. Only a fifth of the IAS and other services actually function in the ministries of the Central government. In our federal system, the PM’s writ will have limited impact on the functioning of state government bureaucracies through whom the bulk of government work is carried out. State government programmes and services are aligned to policies announced by chief ministers and draw nourishment from state budgets. When CMs demand honesty and hard work, the civil service responds. But when CMs are surrounded by influence-peddlers, officers look to benefit from proximity to such elements. The PM can do little to change this unfortunate trend because officers are governed by the state cadre authority, which comes directly under the CM.

The PM’s style has drawn much enthusiasm from the Central government’s bureaucracy. But now the real test lies in being able to distinguish the achievers from the drones, and giving the former the freedom to deliver.

UPSC Row: Meet the Protestors

July 29, 2014 at 12:11 PM | Posted in TV Show | Leave a comment

ndtv_logoPublished On: July 28, 2014 | Duration: 21 min, 52 sec

Agenda brings you the people behind the protests – meet the five who went to jail protesting the English questions in the UPSC-CSAT exam. Is it another elitist fight or is there more to this row that is seeing violent protests all over and that has netas queing up to give support?

I come in at 4.32 minutes, 13.08 minutes, 14.00 minutes and 17.05 minutes.

Nation at 9:Brick & mortar ‘murders’

June 30, 2014 at 10:07 AM | Posted in TV Show | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , ,

NewsxPublished on 29 Jun 2014

Five persons were killed and 15 others injured when an 11-story under-construction building collapsed near suburban Porur on Saturday with rescue efforts on by multiple agencies, including National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).

A total of 20 persons were rescued and admitted to the nearby Sri Ramachandra Medical University (SRMU), of whom five — three men and two women — died, hospital spokesperson P V Nallamuthu said, adding one of the injured is in critical condition.

Question Hour: Modi scanner on Ministers – Part 1 & Part 2

June 29, 2014 at 6:36 PM | Posted in TV Show | Leave a comment

newsnationPublished on 27 Jun 2014

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not leaving any point to keep their ministers engaged in their work and for the same he is scanning and monitoring each and every move. In this edition of Question Hour we talk about the merits and demerits of Modi governance.

Question Hour: Modi scanner on Ministers – Part 1

Question Hour: Modi scanner on Ministers – Part 2

Guests: Shailaja Chandra (Former Chief Secretary, Govt of Delhi) ; Meem Afzal (Leader, Congress) ; Shyam Jaju (Leader, BJP) Anchor: Ramesh Bhat.

नई फसल की नई संभावनाए

June 14, 2014 at 8:19 PM | Posted in News clippings | Leave a comment

यूपीएससी की परीक्षा ने कुलीन समाज के मिथक को तोड़ा है। ग्रामीण और निम्न मध्यवर्गीय उम्मीदवारो ने अपनी क्षमताओं का लोहा मनवाया है।
अंक योग्यता की पूरी परिभाषा नही होते। हमारे समय मे शिक्षा-पध्दति और मार्किग पैटर्न, दोनो ऐसे थे कि साठ प्रतिशत अंक लाने वाले छात्र बड़े ही काबिल माने जाते।लेकिन अब केवल प्रथम श्रेणी से पास होना सफलता की गारंटी नही है। यह रूझान संघ लोक सेवा आयोग की परीक्षा मे भी दिखता है

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The Big Picture – How can the power crisis be managed?

June 13, 2014 at 10:06 AM | Posted in TV Show | Leave a comment

rjtvPublished on 11 June 2014

Guests: Anil Razdan (Former Secretary, Ministry of Power, Government of India) ; Shailaja Chandra (Former Chief Secretary, Govt of Delhi) ; Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (Senior Journalist and Economic Analyst) Anchor: Girish Nikam.

Air date: June 10, 2014

I come at 5:18 Minute, 18:02 Minute and 26:45 Minute

Book Review – Female Foeticide – Myth and Reality

June 9, 2014 at 2:24 PM | Posted in Book Reviews | Leave a comment


Book review- Female Foeticide – Myth and Reality by Anurag Agarwal

Female Foeticide – Myth and Reality
Anurag Agarwal
Pages – 104
Price – Rs.300/-

Smt Shailaja Chandra
Former Secretary, Department of AYUSH, Government of India and Chief Secretary, Delhi

The book is an analysis of interviews of 374 women who underwent sex determination tests leading to female foeticide. A questionnaire was prepared and administered by volunteers belonging to an NGO. The main objective of the study was to understand the psyche of women who have undergone female foeticide. The survey covered 17 districts Punjab and it was conducted over a three-month period from November 2001 to January 2002. The interviewers were given a one-day orientation program and the training was imparted under the supervision of the concerned ANM/multipurpose health workers (female).

The questionnaire had 40 questions and the respondents were classified according to economic status. The analysis was undertaken by a computer engineer and doctors of the Punjab Health Systems Corporation who developed their own software. Some of the more important and qualitative questions put to the women respondents relate to:

· Whether belonging to the joint family structure,

· Whether they already had living children,

· Whether they already had a male child/female child,

· Awareness about prenatal testing and the source of this knowledge,

· Perceptions on whether the mother should know about the sex of the unborn child,

· Reasons why preference is given to the boy child.

· Perception about the status of women who had a son,

· Whether maltreatment was meted out for not having a male child

· Mode of maltreatment,

· Number of induced abortions,

· Feelings experienced before the ultrasonography,

· Reasons for undergoing sex determination and who suggested going in for female foeticide,

· Whether the respondent would repeat female foeticide and the number of attempts made to have a male child.

The findings show that women belonging to the upper strata of society tend to opt for sex determination and female foeticide more than the lower strata of society. There are different reasons for this but on the whole the findings show that caste, education, religion and financial status do not affect the data on gender bias and the son preference is prevalent all through but significantly higher among the more affluent and educated.

An important finding was that in 75% of the cases the respondents were pressurised by the husband and in-laws as well as parents to have the procedure done.

From all this, the author concludes that religious advocacy is not going to work and needs to be modified by reducing the monopoly of males in the religious ceremonies. He also advocates that the belief that only sons carry the family name forward and those daughters are somebody else’s wealth needs to be corrected through specific strategies.

The study also brings out that more than 60% of the women respondents stated that they would try up to 3 times for a male child and some even four times which shows the level of desperation to have a male child.

It is not clear whether the statistical methodology is robust enough to withstand technical review but even if the book is used to understand trends as well as factors that influence families in opting for sex determination, it is an extremely useful study. This book was published in 2003 and therefore much of what is written there is now very well-known and borne out by up-to-date research studies and publications. Nonetheless, the book teaches young civil servants and particularly officers who are posted in critical positions as Deputy Commissioners/District Magistrates or those entering the health sector at a senior level the issues connected with son preference and gender bias as seen from the point of view of the would-be mothers. This approach is useful because instead of castigating the role of gynaecologists, radiologists and the systemic failure of the state apparatus, the book focuses almost entirely upon the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and practices of families belonging to different economic strata.

Book Review – The Honest Always Stand Alone

June 9, 2014 at 2:17 PM | Posted in Book Reviews | Leave a comment


Book review- The Honest Always Stand Alone by C. G. Somiah
Niyogi Books ,New Delhi ,2010

Honest Always Stand AloneThe Honest Always Stand Alone
C. G. Somiah
Niyogi Books ,New Delhi ,2010
Pages – 276
Price – Rs.395/-
Shailaja Chandra
Former Secretary, Department of AYUSH, Government of India and Chief Secretary, Delhi

This book published in 2010 should be read by civil servants and particularly IAS officers because the autobiography represents a career that is no longer replicable. It is a reflection on what the service once stood for and also a time when civil servants were respected for their competence, integrity and forthrightness.

Somiah’s book reads like an uninterrupted journey of one notable achievement after another and to that extent the title is misleading. Far from “standing alone”, Somiah benefited hugely by the high standards and respect for the civil service that prevailed in his time, albeit not without some aberrations.

Much has been made of his refusal to acquiesce in granting relief to tendu leaf contractors in Orissa which earned him an average entry in his ACR only to be annulled when a commission of enquiry vindicated his stand. The story is not compelling in the present context when officers are confronted with similar situations very frequently and have perforce to reconcile themselves to the fact that they have to perform a duty even when the system may not stand by them. Outsiders to the civil service will nonetheless look upon the tendu leaf story as evidence of Somiah’s toughness.

Somiah’s career cannot be compared with that of present day serving and recently retired officers. He remained with the Government of India continuously from the early eighties, all through functioning at the level of Secretary to Government until he was appointed as union Home Secretary, followed by Central Vigilance Commissioner and finally the Comptroller and Auditor General of India – a position he held until 1995. It only shows that the career profile of those recruited in the 1950s was very different from those who had joined several decades later, when the window of opportunity to serve at the topmost levels, has shrunk enormously.

The book is replete with examples of his interactions with Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Buta Singh, Arun Nehru, Dr Manmohan Singh and many others. The anecdotes bring out their individual personality traits and style of functioning and display the immaturity, peremptoriness, pique, procrastination and obsequiousness of different players at different moments. Told in an unaffected and casual manner there is no shade of malice and yet each episode captures the moment, supported by sufficient detail to make the accounts interesting and credible.

More important than the episodes are the descriptions of the decision-making process at the highest levels – at times rule-bound and structured and at others, informal and dependent on personal trust and understanding. This is particularly evident when Somiah describes his role as the union Home Secretary when the stand-off between Buta Singh and Arun Nehru was taking place, the attempt at the Prime Minister’s assassination at Rajghat, the unprecedented rise of terrorism, his negation of the Governor’s plan to enter the Golden Temple, including embargoing any unilateral action without consulting the Centre and his successful batting for the deployment of the National Security Guards (NSG) to surround the Golden Temple. These incidents and many more are described along with the attendant pulls and pressures that perforce form the backdrop of any high-level decision making process. Each anecdote brings out the pivotal position that the Home Secretary played and how important and convincing Somiah’s own role was.

Another story which comes out in a first person relates to the Shah Bano case and the role played by Arif Mahmood Khan and the eventual enactment of the Muslim woman (protection of rights of divorce) act – widely seen as an act of appeasement to win the Muslim vote.

Similarly his account of personally reading Satanic verses by Salman Rushdie and concluding that the book needed to be banned in the interest of mainstreaming law and order in the country comes as something of a surprise. How many people know that one individual could take such a decision?

An incident of labour unrest in the Indian Express and the manner in which he refused to acquiesce to the demands of the editor Arun Shourie and told him “ he could do his worst” shows that Somiah was a man with a backbone and capable of rare plain speaking.

The book is replete with anecdotes involving many officers who are no longer alive or are well into their 80s. They were considered stalwarts in their days and the sense of esprit de corps that existed comes out very well.

There are also numerous accounts of Somiah’s visits abroad and within the country and his love for nature, greenery; wildlife and the simple joys a close family life. These interludes are diversions from the main story which remains focused on his own career graph which went from strength to strength and never saw a U-turn. The descriptions of numerous official and personal visits and vacations however lack the spice and imagery which could have made them memorable. They only serve to show that Somiah had a happy family and enjoyed his forays into the countryside immensely, thereby driving home the point that it is possible to hold a powerful office – in fact several powerful offices including that of the CVC and the CAG and not allow official regalia to usurp the space that should stay devoted to family life.

This book delves into a past that has unfortunately left us forever. Still it remains a fairly accurate historical account of how things were managed within the government and to that extent it is certainly worth reading by younger civil servants who want to read about “the good old days.”


June 9, 2014 at 2:04 PM | Posted in Book Reviews | Leave a comment


Book review- THE ACROBATICS OF CHANGE by Moid Siddiqui and R.H.Khwaja

Acrobatics of Change
Moid Siddiqui and R.H.Khwaja
Sage Publishers ,2008
Pages – 304
Price – Rs.450/-
Shailaja Chandra
Former Secretary, Department of AYUSH, Government of India and Chief Secretary, Delhi


The first part of the book is written by Moid Siddiqui, a senior corporate professional possessing considerable experience in the public sector.

Siddiqui’s portion of the book has two sections and 12 chapters, each chapter introduced by a quotation which moralises about the lessons to follow. The book is full of fables, parables and stories from mythology. His analogy of change management being akin to a trapeze act is persuasive. The criticality of understanding the need for change and boldly exchanging the swing to land on the opposite platform of the trapeze is used to depict the difference between “statusquoists” and those who seize opportunity. The lesson held out is that there will always be hindrances and limitations and an unwillingness to shrug oneself from the “comfort zone,” but unless that is overcome, there can be no new beginnings. He however cautions that the change process needs to be punctuated at the right intervals.

In the section on change techniques, Siddiqui describes the five hats that change-makers must don; or the five associates one must find to play five different roles. These are the role of the discoverer – Columbus, the artist who presents a new way of looking at things, the judge who is both critical and constructive, the Sufi who plays the role of the conscience- keeper and finally the warrior who doubles up as general and soldier. Not only does Siddiqui formulate a sequence for each such persona but follows it up with a portfolio management and strategic analysis for each player. Inevitably all this leads to subchapters, boxes, numerals and bullet points – making the book sound like a heavy version of the usual management books.

Siddiqui’s tips and techniques, some ascribed to Japanese examples ultimately percolate down to questioning the ‘why’ of a problem and the ‘how’ of solving it. This is followed by dwelling on the benefits of brainstorming, trigger sessions, wild idea sessions, SWOT analysis and suggestion schemes – all well-known techniques-but not necessarily practical for those who have to grapple with priorities that change each day.

Later, Siddiqui recounts three stories of success that is of Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT), Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) and the Nagarjuna Group’s achievements, all examples of great leadership which had sometimes to be sacrificed at the altar of misplaced policies, squandering away the glory of past accomplishments.

The first part of the book is then a good read for middle level public sector managers who need stories and parables to relate to situations. However it is not of much practical value to top executives and managers or for that matter senior officers working in the government, simply because the urgency and criticality of what they confront cannot be addressed through management homilies.


The second part of the book is written by R.H.Khwaja IAS officer who was the Chairman and Managing Director of Singareni Collieries Company (SCCL).The enormity of what was achieved at Singareni has been captured very effectively in the author’s Annexures at the end of the book which depict a spectacular turnaround for SCCL: the accumulated losses in 1997 were more than RS.1200 crores. In nine years the company wiped out all its debts and became profitable. Coal production and dispatches improved by nearly 25% when the workforce was decreased by 25%. The number of strikes reduced from 310 witnessed in the pre-reform period to just 11, nine years later. The welfare expenditure per employee went up from around Rs 14,000 to Rs. 54,000. Nonetheless it remains a sincere effort at acknowledging and saluting the good work of all those who helped Khwaja achieve what he did.

One strong message that come out extremely well and should be something which Indian Chief Ministers should be reminded about, is the tremendous political will and support that was extended to him by the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. It is very easy to appreciate how a supportive Chief Minister can make or break organisations as well as their Chief Executives.

Khwaja tells of two stories when Singareni collieries (SCCL) had to confront twin disasters in the year 2003 which had a vastly sobering influence on the management. In one disaster, 17 workers perished due to water inundation and in another a roof collapse led to the death of 10 miners. Both these disasters could have completely demoralised senior managers besides leading to terrible labour unrest and the immediate transfer (and humiliation) of the CMD. But Khwaja recounts how they overcame adversity and even after he offered to leave, the Chief Minister stood by him and he continued. In these days of intolerance for the role of the civil servant and the leadership role he plays, the SCCL story reinforces faith in the system and reinforces a belief that trust begets trust.

Taken as a whole, it is a story of what can come about when relations between the PSU and the government are good; the loyalty that a kind, considerate and sympathetic CMD can command; and most important of all – what a level-headed Chief Minister can do to support good officers and good organisations. Equally it is a story of how small but thoughtful investments in people, and in this case the coal miners could reap huge dividends for the company. It also shows how a little generosity from the top can go a long way in winning the trust and loyalty of labour.

Book Review – Missing Girls

June 9, 2014 at 1:36 PM | Posted in Book Reviews | Leave a comment


Book review- Missing Girls by Dr Manohar Agnani

Missing Girls

Missing Girls
Dr Manohar Agnani
Books for Change ,2006
Pages – 153
Price – Rs.180/-

Smt Shailaja Chandra
Former Secretary, Department of AYUSH, Government of India and Chief Secretary, Delhi

This book though small in size seeks to cover a vast gamut of issues connected with female foeticide. It has chapters devoted to what the Census 2001 brought out in terms of states and districts with low sex ratio. For a person looking for comparisons it gives a good foundation to compare the data now available in the Census 2011.

The author has criticised the National Population Policy (2000) for sending out a strong message about the small family norm while completely ignoring that that norm should have been linked to freedom from sex bias. He goes on to analyse the Millennium Development Goals; the National Development Goals and other policy documents pointing out that none of the programs address the problem of gender imbalance although the subject is of such critical importance.

In a subsequent chapter Agnani has tabled a few examples of ambiguous messages which not only confuse the public but are patriarchal and patronising in their own way.

In a chapter titled “Catching the Culprits”, he has shown that it is possible to nab the main players by scrutinising and verifying the data supplied in various returns which have to be filed under the schedules attached to the Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (as amended). He has however repeated what various experts he has alluded to in ‘the author’s note’ have propounded but has not commented upon whether the failure to follow up on these prescriptions has been on account of connivance on the part of the district authority (Chief Medical and Health Officer CMHO) or it is due to inadequate technical capacity or any other reason. The author is in favour of implementing the existing law without seeking amendments and feels that it has sufficient wherewithal to address the menace of female foeticide. That begs the question as to why things have failed to fall into place.

The answer seems to lie in the chapter on the “Morena Experience” but the author has not said so in so many words.

On the whole the book is a sincere account of what the author observed and experienced and is based upon a sound public health grounding as well as experience of government functioning. Although one can differ with the author’s opinions at many places, he must be credited with bringing to the table a very useful and provocative account of the subject of female foeticide.

The book is by no means an academic piece of work because it does not reference portions where the author has relied upon the work of other experts and opinion makers. Although there is a bibliography at the end, it is not possible to make out which assumptions and conclusions have been made on the basis of the published work of various people and how much it is the product of the author’s own perception.

From the point of view of civil servants, particularly those working in the health sector, the chapter on Morena district presents a case study which is an eye-opener and should be taken forward for further analysis and discussion at the appropriate forum. In the chapter on “The Way out”, several suggestions have been given as to how a change in attitudes can be brought about. Some of these constitute simple prescriptions which can be implemented without any great change of policy at the national or state level and could form the basis for discussion along with the Morena case study, particularly during in-service training programs for civil servants.

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