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Hercules joins govt

- Mounds of files, computers junked in clean-up drive

New Delhi, June 10: Narendra Modi by all accounts faces a Herculean task. He seems to have started off with the Augean stables.

Asked what staff were removing in sackfuls from Shastri Bhavan on Saturday, an official cited some astonishing stats: “1,800-odd heaps of files, 1,350kg of other unwanted papers and documents, 72 computer monitors, 62 central processing units, 11 water dispensers, 44 keyboards, 6 iron filing racks, 5 air-conditioners….”

That was from the women and child development ministry alone. Outside, about a dozen kabadiwallahs — travelling scrap dealers — were getting busy with their scales.

Was the government dismantling itself lock, stock and barrel? Nope, it was only shedding some excess burden, just as Modi had promised, but in a more literal way than his “minimum government” mantra would imply.

North Block to Nirman Bhavan, home affairs to urban development, ministries and departments have been convulsed in a never-before catharsis since Friday, reaching deep within their innards and spitting out the accumulated junk of decades.

“No one knows for how many years these things have been accumulating. Government officials tend to make copies of everything, from a one-sheet notice to annual reviews. No one then bothers to throw anything away,” a senior official said.

“This push by the government to get rid of the trash was a wake-up call.”

Officially, the directive came from cabinet secretary Ajit Seth, who wrote to all the secretaries last week to “reduce clutter” and make government offices “clean, hygienic and conducive for work”.

But like most things now, this move too is being attributed to the new Prime Minister, perhaps because it sits well with his image of a hard taskmaster impatient with outdated, cumbersome baggage.

So, out went stacks of preliminary files of long-dead or finished projects, piles of antiquated circulars, broken chairs and rusted cabinets, old computers, modems and keyboards, defunct fax and photocopy machines, conked-out ACs and water coolers….

“I’ve been working here for 15 years but haven’t ever seen this kind of a cleaning-up operation. No one knows when the last one happened,” said a peon as he watched sacks stuffed with files being dragged through the corridors of Shastri Bhavan.

While some ministries were still carrying out their unfinished purge early this week, the women and child development ministry completed the job on Saturday, when all its officials and staff reported for work on what is normally a day off.

While the kabadiwallahs’ hired lorries have already whittled the paper mountain down, stack by stack, tenders have been sought from scrap merchants to dispose of the metal, wood and electronic waste, now stuffed into the ministry storeroom. The entire proceeds will go to the ministry’s accounts department.

While few of the ministries could put an exact figure on the quantity of their paper waste, officials said it would be “1,500 to 2,000 kilos” for each, apart from the dated files that were “too numerous to count”.

If Mission Broomsday ruled the home ministry and the department of personnel, training and public grievances in North Block yesterday, it was the same at the offices of the urban development and health and family welfare ministries in Nirman Bhavan.

A mound of files was dumped in a corner of a corridor leading to Smriti Irani’s human resource development ministry. Sources said even the CRPF headquarters in North Block had issued a circular to its staff to remove the racks and almirahs clogging the passages.

Sources said the clean-up crews were made up of office staff and workers “from outside” but couldn’t clarify whether people had been hired from private agencies.

The exercise will not stop with removing the rubbish. Many of the secretaries last week made tours of their departments, pointing out spit-stained walls and leaking bathrooms to administrative staff.

Health and family welfare has initiated renovation of its records room and asked the central public works department to provide proper lighting and channelling of wires in the corridors.

Seth’s directive says the ministries should start digitising their records to eventually create a paperless environment.

Sources said that when the cabinet secretary holds his scheduled meetings with groups of secretaries through this week, he would among other things be seeking a progress report on the cleanliness drive from each.